IPRT MEDIA ADVISORY
IPRT welcomes reduction in prison committals but repeats its calls for stronger systems of prison oversight
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) strongly welcomes the significant reduction in prison committals in 2016, and the clear statement by Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald T.D. that prison should be a sanction of last resort. Prison is damaging to individuals, families and communities and IPRT has long advocated for non-custodial sanctions to become the default response to less serious offending.
IPRT was responding to the publication today (Monday 15 May 2017) of the 2016 annual reports of the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service, alongside the Joint Strategy for Development of Social Enterprise in the Irish Criminal Justice Sector.
IPRT also welcomes progress on addressing the most acute human rights issues in Irish prisons, including ending slopping out and the imprisonment of children. However, other acute issues persist, including inadequate healthcare, the detention of people with serious mental health issues, and an over-reliance on prolonged solitary confinement to ensure prisoner safety. Stronger systems of independent prison oversight are needed to protect against potential human rights abuses behind bars in Ireland.
On publication of the IPS Annual Report, IPRT Acting Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said:
“The fall in prison committals is very positive, and marks a shift away from Ireland’s chronic over-reliance on prison as a response to failures in social policy. The clear statement by the Tánaiste that prison should be a sanction of last resort is strongly welcomed by IPRT.”
“However, the lack of published prison inspection reports since autumn 2014 means that we don’t know enough about the realities on the ground in Irish prisons. In July 2017, Ireland will be quizzed by the UN Committee against Torture on how it protects against potential human rights abuses behind prison walls. Now is the time to strengthen and better resource key systems of prisons oversight, including prison inspections, monitoring and independent complaints mechanisms.”
Responding to the Joint Strategy for Development of Social Enterprise in the Irish Criminal Justice Sector, Ms Ní Chinnéide said:
“New strategies to improve resettlement of prisoners through providing employment opportunities are very positive. These must be met with adequate out-of-cell time for prisoners to access to training and education, and stronger spent convictions legislation."
"Commitments to support resettlement should also extend to open prison provision. Open prisons are cheaper to run, minimise the harmful effects of custody, and support resettlement on release from prison. In this regard, the recent closure of the Training Unit – the only semi-open prison facility in the Dublin area – is extremely disappointing, and appears to contradict all policy recommendations to increase open prison provision in Ireland."
On publication of the annual reports of the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service, IPRT further reiterates a number of its previous calls:
- IPRT calls on the Tánaiste to publish all inspection reports submitted by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons in a timely manner, and ensure the Office is fully resourced to fulfil its significant remit. Ratification of the OPCAT (Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture) and the introduction of an independent prisoner complaints system are also necessary.
- IPRT calls for increased open prison provision, particularly in the Dublin area where many prisoners will settle on release. Increased open prison provision was recommended by the Strategic Review of Penal Policy (2014), the Oireachtas Sub-committee on Penal Reform (2013) and in the IPS Capital Strategy 2016-2021 (2016)
- IPRT calls on all relevant agencies to implement the Joint Probation Service Irish Prison Service Strategy: an Effective Response to Women Who Offend 2014-2016. The average number of women in prison increased in 2016, despite reductions in overall prison numbers. Gender-specific community-based sanctions, step-down facilities and an open prison for women are urgently needed.
For further comment, please contact: Fíona Ní Chinnéide on 087 181 2990
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. Irish Prison Service / Probation Service annual reports
The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, T.D., launched the following reports and strategy on Monday 15 May 2017 at an event in Mountjoy Prison: Probation Service Annual Report 2016; Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2016; and the Joint Strategy for Development of Social Enterprise in the Irish Criminal Justice Sector. More details here: http://justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PR17000156
2. IPRT ‘Progress in the Penal System’ Project
IPRT has secured funding for a 3-year annual human rights project, which will provide a comprehensive report on human rights issues in Irish prisons. For the first time, the prevailing situation within Ireland’s prisons will be independently tracked, monitored and assessed on an annual basis. Titled the Progress in the Penal System (‘PIPS’) project, the first report is scheduled for publication in October 2017.
3. Closure of the Training Unit
IPRT regrets the closure of the Training Unit, the only semi-open facility in the Dublin region, in May 2017, which reduces Ireland’s open prison provision from 9% to 6.5%. IPRT advocates for open prison provision to comprise 30% of the Irish prison estate in the longer-term. See here.
4. 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.