Renua Ireland launched their party manifesto for the 2016 General Election on Monday 4th January 2016. The manifesto can be accessed here. Here IPRT analyses proposals included in the JUSTICE section, which begins at p. 49.
Overall, the emphasis in RENUA Ireland's manifesto is on traditional punitive responses to crime and is less focused on evidence-informed approaches proven to be more effective in reducing crime. A detailed examination of individual policy proposals put forward by Renua follows:
14.1 Tougher Sentencing
14.1.1 Three Strikes Rule
RENUA Ireland proposes to introduce a "three strikes rule" for serious criminal offences resulting in a mandatory life sentence on a successful prosecution of the third offence. In fact, there is no evidence from Ireland or abroad that mandatory sentencing works to address any category of offending. This is underscored by reviews conducted by the Law Reform Commission (2013) and the Strategic Review of Penal Policy (Rec. 34, Sept 2014) which both recommend that no new mandatory sentencing schemes should be introduced in Ireland.
All that mandatory sentencing achieves is increasing the numbers of people in prison, at significant cost to the state. If community safety is at the centre of the criminal justice strategy, then mandatory sentencing represents a very poor investment.
Additionally, RENUA Ireland specify four crimes that should be subjected to the 'three strike' rule: murder, rape, child sex abuse, and burglary. Some points to consider here:
- A mandatory life sentence for murder already exists, and judges can currently hand down a life sentence for rape where it is deemed the appropriate punishment.
- People imprisoned in Ireland for homicide and sexual offences have the lowest reoffending rates on release from prison, and the majority of any subsequent offending is in the categories of public order and road traffic offences. (See CSO statistics here.)
- Proposals for a 'three strike' rule do not address the causes of offending behaviour. Restorative justice approaches, for example, have proven to be cost-effective in addressing property offences.
For more detail on IPRT's position on mandatory sentencing and the evidence which informs it, see here.
14.1.2 Life Means Life
RENUA Ireland commit to the introduction of legislation to provide that a judge may recommend a minimum term to be served by an offender who has been convicted of murder.
In Ireland, life sentenced prisoners may be released into the community on reviewable temporary release ("parole"). They remain on license for the rest of their lives, and can be recalled to prison any time. In recent years, the average time served in prison on a life sentence has been 20 years - and not 17, as stated in the Renua Ireland manifesto. (In 2013, one life sentenced prisoner was released on license having served 13 years, which impacted on the average time served for that year.) See here.
While there may be some merit in 'tariff' systems as currently exist in the UK, IPRT currently does not have an evidence base on which to form a position on such a system.
4.1.3 Parole Board on Independent Statutory Basis
IPRT fully supports Renua Ireland's commitment to introducing legislation to ensure that the Parole Board is placed on an independent statutory basis.
For more detail on IPRT's position on parole reform and the evidence which informs it, see here.
14.2 Making Parents Responsible for Juvenile Crime
IPRT believes that proposals to "hold parents to account" for anti-social behaviour of their children fails to acknowledge the causes of offending behaviour: poverty, educational disadvantage, mental health issues, addictions, and chaotic family backgrounds to name but a few.
Proposals to require parents to pay the court costs of the proceedings where their children are found guilty will impact disproportionately on poor, marginalised and socially-excluded communities. Where parents are unable to pay court costs, this is likely to further exacerbate the negative cycle of poverty and imprisonment. (Ireland currently sends 9,000 people to prison every year for failure to pay court-ordered fines.)
Instead of increasing punishment, resources should be invested in prevention and early intervention strategies which have been proven to reduce crime and strengthen communities.
For more detail on IPRT's position on prevention and early intervention strategies and the evidence which informs it, see here.
See also the evidence that supports the case for the differential treatment of young adults in the criminal justice system here.
14.3 Collaring White Collar Crime
IPRT agrees with RENUA Ireland that white collar crimes – traditionally committed by the more privileged members of society – are much less likely to result in custodial sentences than the crimes (theft, criminal damage, drug-related offences) typically committed by the poor.
IPRT's position is that the criminal justice system should treat all transgressors in an equitable manner. This means that the crimes of the rich as well as the poor should be investigated, prosecuted and punished with equal vigour. Imprisonment should be the last resort for all categories of offender and not just those who come from the more privileged sections of society.
For more detail on IPRT's position on the vicious circle of social exclusion and crime, and the evidence which informs it, see here.
14.4 Garda Reform
14.4.1 Rural Policing
IPRT welcomes RENUA Ireland's commitment to using data analysis to identify where criminal justice resources would be most effective. The core goal of any criminal justice system should be the prevention of crime.
To this end, IPRT has previously called for a comprehensive National Crime Strategy to be put in place, which prioritises crime prevention and building safer communities, and which provides a platform for greater cooperation between all state agencies responsible for crime prevention. IPRT welcomes all current and proposed initiatives for inter-agency co-operation on addressing crime and the causes of crime.