Mandatory sentencing removes the opportunity for judges to use their discretion and impose sentences that are appropriate in the particular circumstances of the case. Examples from other jurisdictions have shown that such restrictions on sentencing can lead to unjust punishment and breaches of human rights standards in the administration of justice.
Research in other jurisdictions shows that mandatory sentencing is ineffective as a deterrent, and impacts negatively on imprisonment rates. It has also proved to undermine the integrity of the criminal justice system, forcing judges, prosecutors, and defence lawyers to ‘negotiate justice’.
IPRT believes that mandatory and presumptive sentences should be removed from the statute book in Ireland. Instead, alternatives to mandatory sentencing, as proposed by the Law Reform Commission, should be introduced to address the concerns relating to the consistency, transparency and predictability of sentencing practice.
Presumptive minimum sentencing can result in low level players, vulnerable to exploitation, being imprisoned for very long sentences - including first time offenders. Recent figures in Ireland suggest that the Courts are taking a pragmatic approach to laws that have not proven effective.
In 2013, the Law Reform Commission found that the drugs trade had responded to presumptive sentencing by using "expendable couriers". The LRC recommended that "the presumptive sentencing regime that applies to certain drugs and firearms offences should be repealed and should not be extended to any other offences".
Additionally, people who receive the presumptive 10 year sentence cannot access early release mechanisms, including remission and temporary release for reintegration purposes. This has further negative impacts on the children and families of the prisoners.
In 2014, the Dept of Justice and Equality Strategic Review of Penal Policy recommended that the prohibition on temporary release for those offenders who receive the presumptive mandatory sentence for a drugs or firearms offence should be removed (Rec. 29, p. 86 and Rec. 34, p.99) and recommended that:
"existing presumptive minimum sentences and the threshold for their application in drugs and other offences should be reviewed [...] with a view to determining if this type of sentencing satisfies the need for proportionality in sentencing and fulfils the objective of reducing crime." (p. 99)
IPRT believes that along with measures to address the supply of drugs, there needs to be increased investment in reducing the demand for drugs through increased provision of treatment and services in the community. This would be a far more effective use of public money than mandatory sentencing regimes.
For more information about IPRT's position on Mandatory Sentencing, see: http://www.iprt.ie/contents/1242
Read IPRT's comments in The Irish Times article by Conor Lally on 28th November 2016, "Only 3% of convicted drug dealers given mandatory 10 years".