The Sixth Report of the Implementation Oversight Group to the Minister for Justice and Equality has been published by the Department of Justice and Equality (DJE) and is available here.
The Penal Policy Review Group (PPRG) was established in 2012 to conduct a wide-ranging strategic review of penal policy. Their report, Strategic Review of Penal Policy, recommended that an implementation and oversight mechanism should be established to report on the progress of the PPRG’s recommendations stemming from the report. As a result, the Implementation Oversight Group was established in early 2015. The Group’s primary function is to report to the Minister every six months regarding the implementation status of the recommendations of the PPRG.
Originally, 43 recommendations were made by the PPRG, but some of these have been recognised to have multiple elements. For the purposes of the sixth report, the Implementation Oversight Group identified a total of 55 areas in which progress could be assessed.
Since the publication of the fourth report, the mechanism of categorisation used is the A-E scale (previously A-D). Out of the 55 areas assessed, three are in the ‘A’ category, 18 are in the ‘B’ category, 16 are in the ‘C’ category, 16 are in the ‘D’ category while two are in the ‘E’ category. As noted in past reports, recommendation 12 which focuses on the provision for the introduction of community service in lieu of part of a sentence of imprisonment in excess of one year on a statutory basis, is currently listed in the ‘E’ category but will not be progressed with further, as decided by the relevant parties.
In the sixth report, the Implementation Oversight Group gave recommendation six an ‘E’ grade also. This recommendation is in relation to the proposal to pilot a community court and has received this grade due to the failure of the DJE to review changes made to previous recommendations, and consider how they would impact on recommendation six, as well as failing to consider alternative options in the case that the Community Court is unlikely to progress.
While the report provided by the Implementation Oversight Group highlights that 236 milestones have now been deemed complete, it also highlights various major areas of concern in which there is a vital need for progress to be made. In her letter to the Minister, Chairperson Mary Rogan makes reference to these neglected areas. One of the main concerns mentioned is that the ‘big picture’ of penal policy reforms is becoming lost and is exemplified in the slowly increasing prison numbers and the use of remand detention. Perhaps most significantly, Chairperson Rogan points out that in the absence of supports for penal policymaking, there is a greater risk in reversing any past developments and improvements made within the sector and as such it is crucial that such supports are implemented.
Particular areas of concern:
- Lack of a general consensus across the criminal justice process that non-custodial options are to be the preferred sanction where appropriate;
- Minimal progress regarding the implementation of measures to create an understanding of sentencing processes, the effect of proposed reforms, or the impact of policy changes; and
- Failure to hold the first meeting of the Consultative Council.