IPRT PRESS RELEASE
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has said that the 2018 annual report of the Irish Prison Service, published yesterday (23.06.19), shows an over-reliance on prison sentences within the judicial system. As a result, our prisons are becoming increasingly overcrowded, which will ultimately lead to poorer outcomes for those detained.
According to the Director of IPRT, Fíona Ní Chinnéide: “Prison policy has greatly improved in recent years and much has been achieved during the lifetime of the Irish Prison Service’s 2016-2018 strategic plan. However, prisoner numbers urgently have to be reduced to allow the Irish Prison Service to continue to successfully implement its internal reforms. If the courts continue to commit high rates of men and women to prison, overcrowding will become unsustainable, outcomes for offenders will disimprove and the objectives in our penal policy will not be met.”
IPRT welcomed the commitment by the Irish Prison Service to continue its programme of reform and improvement of standards, and noted positive initiatives outlined in the report, such as the rehabilitative, non-punitive National Violence Reduction Unit; the success of independently evaluated JARC (Joint Agency Response to Crime) programmes; and the collaboration between the prison and probation services, as well as the positive engagement between the Irish Prison Service and the Inspector of Prisons to jointly improve prison standards. IPRT also welcomed the significant reduction in the number of committals resulting from the non-payment of a court order fine (down 79.8%). However, it expressed concern that the numbers committed directly under sentence (that is, excluding fines committals) increased by 15.4%.
Ms Ní Chinnéide said: “What the figures from the annual report of the Irish Prison Service tell us is this: the numbers being committed under sentence of less than 12 months, and in particular less than three months, comprise the biggest increase in prisoner numbers. Amid a very sharp drop in fines committals, the question must be asked: why have we seen a substantial rise in overall prison numbers through 2018, and in particular across short sentences? Last year, 74% of all committals under sentence were for sentences of 12 months or less. This is putting pressure on an already overstretched system and results in situations like last month, when there were 1,364 instances of people sleeping on the floor across the prison estate.
“The proliferation of short sentences is highest among women. In 2018, the average number of women in prison increased by 14.6%, and over a third of women in prison are serving sentences under 12 months. And while overcrowding in the prison system is becoming an issue, it is already persistent in the female prison system and conditions are in a very fragile state.
“Many of these women have complex needs, including addiction, homelessness and mental health issues. They often lack a partner or parent to provide a safety net or support. The overcrowded conditions of the women’s prison system will not assist – in any way – towards better outcomes for them. We have arrived at the pinch-point and strong interventions are needed to increase the use of community-based sanctions for women,” she added.
Following the publication of the annual report today, IPRT called on the Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, to:
- Enshrine the principle of imprisonment as a measure of last resort in statute, which was a core recommendation in the cross-agency, Department of Justice and Equality-led Strategic Review of Penal Policy (Recommendation 32).
- Drive practice – through education and awareness, as well as resourcing – to eliminate use of short-term sentences for non-violent offences (two Oireachtas Committees, 2013 and 2018, have called for sentences of less than six months to be commuted and replaced with CSOs).
- Resource and implement the recommendations of the Interagency Group for a Fairer and Safer Ireland, which is working to improve interdepartmental and interagency coordination around the integration and rehabilitation of offenders.
- Progress the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill 2014 to update and strengthen the legislation underpinning community sanctions, as recommended by the Strategic Review of Penal Policy (Recommendation nine).
CONTACT: Catherine Heaney / Sebastian Enke, DHR Communications, Tel: 01-4200580 / 087-2309835 / 087