Key Issues

For more information on these priority areas for penal reform, see the individual sections opposite.

Penal Policy

Ireland systematically overuses imprisonment as punishment. IPRT advocates for a national penal policy that is just and humane, promotes effective non-custodial responses to crime and uses prison as a last resort.

Human Rights in Prison

IPRT promotes a penal system that is: humane as experienced by people who are detained, protects and promotes human rights and equality, and strives to achieve international best practice in formal regimes, daily practices and overall culture. This section also includes information on solitary confinement and health in prison.

Accountability in Irish Prisons

Monitoring and inspection of places of detention, as well as independent external mechanisms for the review of prisoners’ complaints and robust systems of investigation of deaths in prison custody, are central to the protection of human rights of prisoners and form part of Ireland’s obligations under international human rights law.

Alternatives to Custody

Irish prisons are chronically overcrowded. Significant numbers of those who are sent to prison for non-violent offences could be dealt with using non-custodial means. IPRT believes in the development of an integrated system of alternatives to custody, which could include the wider use of suspended sentences and community service orders. This section also includes information on restorative justice.

Reintegration of Offenders   

Even a short period of imprisonment can damage a prisoner’s ability to function in society, contributing to his or her return to offending following release. IPRT believes that appropriate preparation for release and post-release support play an important role in the successful return of former prisoners to their families, communities and wider society. Broad legislation which allows for certain convictions to become 'spent' is also essential to the successful reintegration of offenders. This section also includes information on spent convictions.


Imprisonment itself causes a number of serious social harms, and therefore should only be used sparingly at the point of sentencing. We believe that greater transparency in sentencing can be achieved as well as better coordination between sentencing authorities and other agencies on the penal system.

Women in Detention   

The impact of even short-term imprisonment on women and their families is profound, and the economic and social costs to society at large are significant. IPRT is committed to working towards major policy change in relation to imprisonment of women in Ireland, with a central focus on the provision of alternatives to detention.

Youth Justice

Central to our work was ending the practice of detaining children in adult prisons, which was in breach of international human rights standards and a serious stain on Ireland's human rights record. Children are no longer held in adult prisons in Ireland. IPRT continues to work towards progressive change in youth justice policies and practice, and continue to engage in wider policy and practice issues relating to youth justice, such as the provision of alternatives to detention, diversion and early intervention programmes. 

Children of Prisoners

Children and families coping with imprisonment are often described as the ‘hidden’ victims of the penal system because they must endure their own sentence, despite not having perpetrated any crime. IPRT works towards the recognition and support of the rights and needs of children and families affected by imprisonment through research, advocacy, and awareness-raising activities.

For more information on these priority areas for penal reform, see the individual sections opposite.

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