Ireland systematically overuses imprisonment as punishment. IPRT believes imprisonment should be used as a last resort, and that the emphasis of our penal system needs to move away from expansionism, and towards diverting young offenders and at-risk groups away from offending behaviour.
Human Rights in Prison
IPRT is committed to ensuring that the rights of prisoners are respected and that Irish penal policy is based on the implementation of international human rights standards. This section also includes information on solitary confinement.
Health in Prison
IPRT believes that responsibility for the provision of healthcare be transferred from the IPS to the HSE. In addition to this, IPRT believes that those with mental illness should be diverted away from the criminal justice system and should be treated within a community setting, where possible.
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.
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.
Custody for children should only be used as a last resort and for the minimum required period of time. In Ireland, the Children Act 2001 recognizes this principle. However, the practice of detention of children continues. IPRT remains deeply concerned at this situation, and we 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. Detention of children in adult prisons (St Patricks Institution) was ended in 2017.
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.