The Irish Prison Service's annual report released last month (available here) highlighted the over-reliance on prison sentencing within the criminal justice system. As of July 1st 2019, the prison population currently stands at 4,015. Consequently, some prisons within the estate are experiencing considerable overcrowding, the effects of which pose detrimental effects to prisoners' well-being, quality of life, and effective rehabilitation while in custody.
An article in today's Irish Examiner has again called attention to the impact of prison overcrowding. Figures supplied by the Minister in response to a parliamentary question by now MEP Clare Daly in June 2019 show that an average of 45 prisoners slept on mattresses between February and May this year, with Limerick prison and Midlands prison the worst affected by the rising numbers.
Commenting on the extent of overcrowding in the article, IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide states:
"Prisoners sleeping on floors is a clear breach of the most basic human rights standards, including European prison rules. It is unacceptable and undermines rehabilitation, with future implications for public safety. Crowding in prisons increases tensions, violence and drugs, putting the safety of staff and prisoners at risk. This will become worse in summer, when prison schools are closed for four weeks."
Last month, in response to the increasing population cited in the Irish Prison Service's annual report, IPRT reiterated the need for recognition of the principle of imprisonment as a last resort and the effective use of alternatives to custody. IPRT have 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 Fairer and Safer Ireland, which is working to improve the 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 9).
The Irish Examiner article, by Cormac O'Keeffe, is available here.