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Press Release: Increasing numbers in Irish prisons undermines safety and rehabilitation

26th June 2018

IPRT PRESS RELEASE - 25th June 2018

Increasing numbers in Irish prisons undermines safety and rehabilitation – IPRT

Recent improvements in the prison system are being undermined by overcrowding in Irish prisons, and the Minister for Justice and Equality should act on policy commitments to reduce numbers in prison in order to promote prisoner rehabilitation and public safety. The new probation and prisons strategies must be adequately resourced, and any new legislation introduced by Government must align with agreed penal policy.

This was the response of Deirdre Malone, Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) on the publication today (Monday, 25th June 2018) of the 2017 annual reports of the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service, the Probation Service Strategic Plan 2018-2020 and the Irish Prison Service and Probation Service Strategic Plan 2018-2020.

Speaking this morning, Ms Malone said: “There is a disconnect between stated departmental policy and the reality of crowded prisons. In 2018, numbers in prison have been accelerating towards 4,000 again, with 6 of the 10 closed prisons operating over capacity and the Dochas Centre regularly running at over 130%. As long as numbers are at this level, it’s impossible to have any meaningful interventions or to tackle offending behaviour.

“The number of prisoners participating on the highly successful Community Return and Community Support Programmes has almost halved since 2014, and the numbers serving short custodial sentences continues to be higher than the numbers serving Community Service Orders. This runs counter to the recommendations of the Department of Justice and Equality ‘Strategic Review of Penal Policy’.

“We welcome the departmental commitment to review the eligibility criteria for early release programmes. This should be fast-tracked. Additionally, the probation and prisons strategies published today must be adequately resourced, and any new legislation introduced by Government must align with agreed penal policy.

“In August 2018, the Irish Government will be reporting to the UN Committee against Torture. Unfortunately, all of the progress that the Government was able to report in 2017 is at risk of being reversed unless immediate action is taken to reverse the drift upwards in prisoner numbers.”

IPRT welcomes the decrease in the number of prison committals in 2017, due to fines legislation, and the historic final closure of St Patrick’s Institution in April 2017. However, the increasing daily prison population in 2018 is of major concern. Numbers in prison custody were 3,995 on Wednesday 20th June 2018. Numbers first passed 4,000 in October 2009, peaking at over 4,600 in 2011, before being safely reduced to under 3,600 in 2017.

For further comment, or an interview with Deirdre Malone, please contact Fíona on: 087 181 2990

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. Irish Prison Service / Probation Service annual reports

On Monday 25 May 2017, Minister for Justice and Equality, Mr Charles Flanagan TD, launched the following reports and strategy: Probation Service Annual Report 2017; the Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2017; the Probation Service Strategic Plan 2018-2020; and the Irish Prison Service and Probation Service Strategic Plan 2018-2020.

In February 2018, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality ‘Report on Penal Reform and Sentencing’ offered sensible solutions, including capping prisoner numbers and increasing provision of community sanctions.

2. Figures

On Friday 22nd June 2018, there were:

  • 3,981 people in prison custody in Ireland.
  • 6 of the 10 closed prisons in Ireland were overcrowded
  • Dóchas female prison was operating at 133% capacity (140 women for 105 spaces)
  • Limerick female prison was operating at 154% capacity (37 women for 24 spaces)

Source: https://www.irishprisons.ie/information-centre/statistics-information/2015-daily-prisoner-population/2018-prison-populations/

3. IPRT ‘Progress in the Penal System’ Project

The Irish Penal Reform Trust launched a major new report 'Progress in the Penal System: A framework for penal reform' (PIPS) on Tuesday 24th October 2017. The report provides a comprehensive overview of human rights and best practice in Ireland’s penal system. IPRT has developed 35 standards against which the prevailing situation in Ireland’s penal system is tracked, monitored and assessed on an annual basis. A summary of the report is available here: http://www.iprt.ie/files/Progress_in_the_Penal_System_-_Summary_-_web.pdf

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.

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