The Joint Committee on Justice and Equality have published their 2018 Report on Penal Reform and Sentencing.
The report is based on a series of public meetings held in 2017 with various contributing stakeholder groups, including the Irish Penal Reform Trust, represented by Deputy Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide and Senior Research and Policy Project Manager Michelle Martyn.
The Committee focused on measures that could be taken to decrease the numbers of people being sent to prison in Ireland each year. The report finds a ‘systematic overuse of imprisonment as punishment’, unacceptable conditions in Irish prisons, and the need to increase efforts to rehabilitate prisoners.
The report takes into account a number of key issues raised by IPRT to the Oireachtas Committee.
- IPRT pointed to numerous issues related to overcrowding: lack of access to private toilet facilities; sharing cells; majority of prisoners being locked up for 16 or 17 hours per day; 72 prisoners locked up for 22 hours or more per day; and 30 prisoners with serious mental health issues awaiting transfer to acute psychiatric facilities.
Alternatives to custody
- IPRT highlighted to the Committee that there has been a year-on-year decrease in the use of community service orders and greater use of alternative sentencing approaches should be encouraged.
- IPRT highlighted to the Committee that prison sentences of less than 6 months should be replaced by community service orders. In order for this to be effectively implemented, we called for the resources allocated to the Probation Service to be expanded.
- IPRT also spoke to the issue of parole reform, calling for the release of decision making power from political control.
Children of Prisoners
- There are 17,000 children affected every year by parental imprisonment. IPRT recommended a penal environment which replicates normal domestic life as much as possible for the children of offenders when they visit relatives.
- The report noted IPRT’s disappointment that the HIQA said they could not currently undertake responsibility for oversight and audit of prisoner health services.
- IPRT recommended that the Department of Health commission an independent external audit of prison healthcare and that prisoner health should fall under the jurisdiction of the HSE.
Following engagement with IPRT and other stakeholders, the Committee made 29 recommendations in their Report, some of which are outlined below:
- The Committee recommends capping prisoner numbers in each institution and a clear Government strategy to reduce prison populations by half over a fixed amount of time
- Prisoners should have at least 12 hours out-of-cell time with meaningful activity every day
- Alternative approaches to women in custody, such as Housing First, should be adopted more widely
- Young adults should have a minimum of 14 hours a day unlocked from their rooms
- Greater emphasis on community-based sanctions for offenders and incarceration as a last resort
- Solitary confinement should be used in extreme cases and should be phased out over the next number of years
- The €100 threshold on the Fines Recovery Act should be removed
- The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act must be urgently reviewed and revised
- The Committee calls for the reform of the parole system, with the creation of a statutory Parole Board
The Committee also called for the speedy introduction of legislation providing for the inspection of all places of detention in the Justice area – including prisons, Garda stations and courts; and for the immediate ratification thereafter of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). This is an area we will continue to work on during 2018. Find out more about OPCAT here.
Read the full report here.
Read the transcript of IPRT's hearing before the Oireachtas Committee in 2017 here.
To read more about the presentation and our opening statement, see here.
- Irish Examiner: Report calls for range of prison reforms