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Progress on prison reforms welcome but Courts are still sending too many people to prison – IPRT

18th May 2015

MEDIA ADVISORY

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has today welcomed progress by the Irish Prison Service towards addressing overcrowding in prisons, with daily prison numbers returning to 2009 levels. However, a decrease in the use of Community Service Orders by the Courts, and the high numbers committed to prison on short sentences, suggests that the Courts are not making use of cheaper, less damaging and more effective alternatives to prison. To this end, IPRT calls on the Minister for Justice and Equality to progress the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill, and to expedite proposals for legislation obliging the Courts to set out in writing their reasons for imposing a custodial sentence.

IPRT was responding to the Annual Reports for 2014 of the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service, which were published alongside the Joint Irish Prison Service & Probation Service Strategic Plan 2015-2017 on Monday 18th May 2015.

Almost 70% of sentenced committals to prison in 2014 were for fines default; of these, just under 26% were female – a practice which is damaging to families, children and dependent relatives, and wasteful of prison, Garda and courts service resources.

Even when the numbers imprisoned for fines default are excluded, the Courts are over reliant on short prison sentences: 67% of (non-fines) sentenced committals in 2014 were for less than 12 months, despite legislation introduced in 2011 which requires judges to consider community service orders in lieu of short custodial sentences.

IPRT is particularly concerned at the overuse of imprisonment as a response to young adults aged 18-24, which is proven to be less effective and even counter-productive in addressing offending behaviour by this age group. To this end, IPRT welcomes the commitment in the Joint Irish Prison Service & Probation Service Strategic Plan 2015-2017 to developing specific interventions for young offenders aged 18-21.

Programmes which have successfully reduced the numbers in prison include the Community Return Programme and the Community Support Programme. Enhanced Early release programmes like the community return Programme were among the proposals made by IPRT in its submission to the Thornton Hall Review Group in 2011.

For all media enquiries, or for further comment, please contact Fíona on: 087 181 2990

NOTES:

1. IPRT was responding to the Annual Reports for 2014 of the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service, which were published alongside the Joint Irish Prison Service & Probation Service Strategic Plan 2015-2017 on Monday 18th May 2015. The reports are available at: www.irishprisons.ie and www.probation.ie

2. The General Scheme of Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill was published on 5 February 2014, and is available here: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PR14000035

3. Strategic Review on Penal Policy report, published September 2014 (http://justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PB14000244), recommended:

  • Recommendation 32: The Group recommends that imprisonment be regarded as a sanction of last resort and that this principle be incorporated in statute. The Group further recommends that non-custodial sanctions should become the default position in dealing with less serious offenders.
  • Recommendation 33: The Review Group recommends that, in all cases where a custodial sentence is imposed by a court, the court should set out its reasons in writing for so doing. The Group further recommends that this requirement be incorporated in statute.

4. On 12th May 2015, IPRT published a new report, Turnaround Youth: Young Adults (18-24) in the Criminal Justice System, which makes the case for a new, distinct approach to offending by young adults. The report can be download here: http://www.iprt.ie/contents/2733

5. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) | www.iprt.ie

IPRT is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort.

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