The Seventh Report of the Implementation Oversight Group to the Minister for Justice and Equality (Feb 2019) has been published by the Department of Justice and is available to read here.
The Implementation Oversight Group (IOG) was established in early 2015, as recommended by the Penal Policy Review Group (PPRG), in its Strategic Review of Penal Policy (SRPP). The IOG’s primary function is to report to the Minister every six months regarding the implementation status of the recommendations of the PPRG.
Forty-three recommendations were made in the SRPP, although some of these have been recognised to have multiple elements. For the purposes of the seventh report, the Implementation Oversight Group identified a total of 55 areas in which progress could be assessed.
Out of the 55 areas assessed in the seventh report, 3 recommendations are in the ‘A’ category, 19 are in the ‘B’ category, 15 are in the ‘C’ category, 14 are in the ‘D’ category and 4 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 further progressed. Recommendation 34 (part a) ‘review of presumptive minimum sentences’ and recommendation 37 ‘a more structured approach to sentencing’ have moved to the ‘E’ category. Recommendation 6, which relates to proposals for a pilot a community court, remains in the ‘E’ category, as in the sixth report.
Within each recommendation, there are a number of milestones by which the recommendation’s progress can be monitored. Milestones met specifically in the period covered by the seventh report include:
- The implementation of A New Way Forward Social Enterprise Strategy 2017-2019;
- The national roll out of an integrated community service project;
- Issuing of a tender for step-down facilities for women;
- A protocol in now place to ensure engagement with 18-24 year olds serving sentences of >12 months with ISM;
- Instigation of an independent review of management of incentivised regimes policy;
- Inclusion in call for research proposals on the committal of women on remand into custody included under the Department of Justice & Equality Data & Research Strategy 2018-2021;
- The review of existing prison visiting protocols;
- The issuing of a report from the Chairperson of the Interagency Group to the Minister with an outline of progress to date and recommendations to be considered for year two.
While the seventh report of the Implementation Oversight Group highlights that 262 milestones have now been deemed complete, there are various areas where progress has stagnated. In the Chairperson’s letter to the Minister, Professor Mary Rogan specifically points to recommendation 21 which states that “gender appropriate strategies are adopted to the management of female offending and female offenders” and questions whether the Penal Policy Review Group’s envisaged approach concerning women in the criminal justice system is being fulfilled given the ongoing number of women entering prison.
Other areas of concern outlined by the Chairperson include:
- The principle of imprisonment as a measure of last resort has yet to be enshrined in statute (Recommendation 32)
- Legislation on community sanctions is still awaited (Recommendation 9)
- Other core elements concerning support for the policymaking process have also not been progressed, such as the sitting of a Consultative Council (Recommendation 42)
IPRT is particularly concerned about the introduction of presumptive sentencing in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Act 2019, which is the first presumptive (or mandatory) minimum sentence signed into law since the IOG started reporting. This was introduced before the review of the principles behind presumptive sentencing has been submitted to the Minister.
IPRT is further concerned about inaction on the repeal of the prohibition on temporary release for offenders who receive the presumptive minimum sentence for a drugs or firearms offence, as recommended in the SRPP. The seventh report of the IOG notes that this will be considered as part of the consideration of the Parole Bill 2016 [PMB]. IPRT believes that all prisoners should be able to apply for temporary release on an equitable basis and have their application considered evenly on the basis of their conduct in prisons, their risk of reoffending, and other relevant considerations. We will continue our advocacy work on this issue in 2019.
The Strategic Review of Penal Policy is a significant national policy statement on penal reform. The monitoring of the implementation of the SRPP’s policy recommendations by the IOG is a welcome framework and is an invaluable tool to inform IPRT’s Progress in the Penal System series, which provides a comprehensive report on human rights and best practice in Ireland’s penal system. While 262 milestones completed as of publication of the seventh report indicates engagement with the process by all parties, sustained work is needed by all stakeholders to ensure that progress is maintained and commitments are implemented.