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10 Penal Policy Directions 2016-2021

26th February 2016

Smart Justice, Safer Communities

Smart Justice is a criminal justice approach guided by evidence of what works to prevent crime and to reduce reoffending.

Smart Justice recognises that a fair, equal and effective justice system builds safer and better communities.

Here IPRT presents its ten priority directions for a more fair and more effective justice system. All of our proposals are backed up by solid evidence and research.


1. An Innovative and Effective Penal system

Smart Justice is guided by analysis of evidence, data and statistics, and does not engage in knee-jerk policy responses. Progress and reforms achieved since 2011 means that there is now a strong foundation on which to work towards a model penal system in Ireland – one that is led by innovation and not crisis-management. A clear Government commitment to evidence-informed policy, grounded in data and evidence which is made available to the public, is key.

Actions needed:

  • Government commitment to a coherent and evidence-informed penal policy
  • Develop research capacity within the Department of Justice and relevant agencies to support innovative best practice and evidence-based initiatives
  • Publication of crime data and analysis on a regular basis
  • Proper resourcing of the Irish Sentencing Information Project
  • Repeal of mandatory sentencing regimes

Evidence:


2. Punishment in the Community

Smart Justice recognises that prison is not the only real form of punishment. Cheaper non-custodial sanctions are proven to be more effective in addressing less serious offending, and the community benefits from the work carried out. Over-dependence on imprisonment for less serious offences also places disproportionate burden on a prison service that should instead focus its resources on more serious offenders.

Actions needed:

  • Government commitment to resourcing of robust non-custodial responses to offending
  • Establishment of community courts
  • Investment in restorative justice strategies
  • Roll out of supported community sanction schemes nationwide
  • Ensure consistency in availability, use and operation of community sanctions nationwide

Evidence:


3. End Imprisonment of Children in Ireland

Smart Justice does not put children in prison. The Government commitment in 2011 to end the detention of children at St. Patrick’s Institution has been delivered. However, the detention of children continues in Wheatfield Place of Detention, an adult prison, in direct violation of international human rights law. This must be addressed urgently – and with finality.

Actions needed:

  • Remove all children from the adult prison system in Ireland, with urgency
  • Take measures to ensure that no child is ever detained for welfare reasons
  • Resource age-appropriate bail programmes and effective bail supports
  • Ensure that the use of single separation for children in detention is used sparingly, and for minimum period of time
  •  Prioritise investment in prevention and early intervention strategies to reduce number of children coming in contact with the law

Evidence:


4. A New Approach for Young Adults

Smart Justice looks to the future. Young people in the transition to adulthood have the highest rates of offending and reoffending, but the highest capacity for change and desistance from offending behaviour. It is crucial that the wrong interventions do not condemn young adults to a lifetime of marginalisation and crime.

Actions needed:

  • Commit to the development by the Department of Justice of a discrete strategy for young adults aged 18–24 years in conflict with the law
  • Ensure that Goal 5 of the National Policy Framework for Children & Young People 2014–2020, “Support Effective Transitions” is properly resourced and fully implemented
  • Introduce age-appropriate supervised bail programmes and effective bail supports for young adults
  • Extend Garda youth diversion programmes to young people aged up to 24

Evidence:


5. Safe Prisons

Smart Justice recognises that crowded prisons are dangerous for prisoners and staff alike, and do little to reduce reoffending. Overcrowding in prisons leads to increase violence, prevalence of drugs, and poorer outcomes. The prison population has been safely reduced by 10% since a peak in chronic overcrowding in 2011. This trend must be continued over the next five years, so that the Irish Prison Service can direct maximum resources towards addressing serious offending behaviour.

Actions needed:

  • Reduce the prison population to a safe custody maximum of 2,850
  • Expand the highly successful Community Return Programme, and ensure no prisoner is deemed ineligible due to the category of their offence
  • Increase standard remission from 25% to 33% and enhanced remission of up to 50%

Evidence:


6. Improve Prison Health

Smart Justice makes sure that prison does not cultivate more serious problems for the future.  Imprisonment by its nature exacerbates mental and physical health issues, and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture has found that the health-care service in some Irish prisons is in “a state of crisis”. Failure to deal appropriately with mental health and addictions makes prisons unsafe for staff and prisoners alike. An effective prison healthcare service, which is capable of meeting the wide range of physical and mental health needs in prison, is urgently required.

Actions needed:

  • Conduct a whole-system review of prison health services
  • Ensure that prisoners with serious mental health issues are diverted to more appropriate therapeutic facilities
  • Increase the number of forensic mental health spaces
  • Adopt measures to reduce the demand for drugs in prison
  • Ensure that all prisoners who wish to address their addictions have access to drugs treatment services
  • Ensure monitoring of infectious diseases including HIV, HCV and TB is included in regular prison health monitoring and inspection mechanisms

Evidence:


7. Humane and Productive Prisons

Smart Justice knows that inhumane prison conditions do not support rehabilitation or desistance from offending. Despite marked improvements since 2011, conditions and regimes in some prisons remain in clear violation of basic human rights standards, exposing Ireland to legal challenge at domestic and European level.

Actions needed:

  • Commit to single-cell accommodation as the best-practice norm across the prison estate
  • Ensure that all prisoners have 24-hour access to private toilet facilities
  • Commit to a daily minimum of 12 hours out-of-cell activity for all prisoners, with emphasis on education, training and work
  • End the use of prolonged isolation of prisoners as a response to prisoner safety concerns

Evidence:


8. Ensure Prison Accountability

Smart Justice is fully accountable to the general public. Public confidence in the effectiveness of the prison system demands transparency and accountability. Independent oversight is crucial to ensuring human rights abuses do not occur out of sight behind prison walls, and the safety of prisoners and staff is strengthened through trusted complaints mechanisms, which reduce tension on prison landings.

Actions needed:

  • Establish a prisoner ombudsman or extend the remit of the general Ombudsman to include complaints from prisoners
  • Meet Ireland’s commitment to ratify the OP-CAT (Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture)
  • Establish the Irish Prison Service as a fully independent Prisons Authority on a statutory basis, with the Director General as Accounting Officer

Evidence:


9. Preparing for Release

Smart Justice ensures that time spent in prison is useful. From the first day of a prisoner’s sentence, he or she should be working with the prison service towards their preparation for release. More transparent and accountable structures of release decision-making will bolster prisoners’ confidence in their engagement with prison services, treatments and regimes. Facilitating family and prisoner relationships plays a key role in reducing recidivism, and helps break inter-generational cycles of crime and imprisonment.

Actions needed:

  • Commit to a Government-led inter-departmental and inter-agency strategy for supporting children with a parent in prison
  • Implement and resource the Irish Prison Service ‘Families and Imprisonment’ strategy
  • Provide an open prison for female prisoners and increase open prison provision for male prisoners
  • Introduce a fully independent Parole Board on a statutory basis
  • Remove exclusions from temporary release for all categories of prisoner

Evidence:


10. Reintegration and Rehabilitation

Smart Justice knows that for every prisoner who does not reoffend on release from prison, there is one fewer victim in the community. It is in everybody’s interest that rehabilitation services and supports are prioritised and adequately resourced. Inter-agency co-operation between prisons, probation, health, mental health, housing and and social welfare services is key to the safe and successful reintegration of people back into the community.

Actions needed:

  • Impose a statutory obligation on relevant state agencies to co-operate around prisoner release
  • Commit to adequate resourcing of reintegration service and supports proven to be effective
  • Ensure that the Probation Service is adequately resourced to meet its expanding remit of assessment and supervision in the community
  • Extend expungement provisions in Children Act 2001 to offences committed up to age 21

Evidence:


Download short version of IPRT 'Smart justice, Safer Communities' here.

More information

T: +353-1-8741400    E: info@iprt.ie        W: www.iprt.ie