Irish Penal Reform Trust

Alternatives to Custody

IPRT advocates for an Irish penal policy that is focused on non-custodial responses to crime, and which has rehabilitation and social integration at its centre.

Ireland systematically overuses imprisonment as punishment. While the average prison population on any given day in Ireland is close to the European average, the rates of committal to prison on sentence – the ‘flow’ of prisoners through the system – means that Ireland is one of the most punitive criminal justice systems in Europe. Additionally, the majority of people are sent to prison for short-term sentences, often for less than 6 months. Irish prisons are chronically overcrowded, and many prisoners who are sent to prison could be more effectively dealt with using non-custodial means.

IPRT believes that the best way of limiting the use of imprisonment in Ireland is the development of an integrated system of alternatives to custody. Alternatives to custody could include the wider use of suspended sentences, community service orders, etc.

The Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act 2011 introduced a requirement that the courts consider imposing CSOs for offences that would ordinarily attract a sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment or less. However, the Annual Reports of the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service since the enactment of the Amendment indicate that the legislation has so far not had the desired impact on reducing the use of imprisonment for less serious offences.

IPRT will continue to promote an increase in the use of non-custodial effective responses to crime as a means of reducing the numbers in detention, without net-widening.

Community Service Bill back in Dáil: Second Stage

21st March 2011

The Criminal Justice (Community Service)(Amendment)(No. 2) Bill 2011 is tabled for consideration by the Dáil on Thurs, 24th March. IPRT has previously welcomed this new legislation which brings our vision of a penal system where imprisonment is used only as a last resort closer to reality.

(UK) Community or Custody - which works best? A National Enquiry

8th March 2011

Make Justice Work has commissioned a National Enquiry to investigate and compare the value and efficacy of short-term prison sentences and community based alternatives to custody.

IPRT welcomes publication of Criminal Justice Bill

12th January 2011

The legislation, published today, will require the courts to consider imposing a community service order for minor offences where it would otherwise be appropriate to sentence the offender to imprisonment for a period of up to six months.

Reforming community sentences: Mending the weak link in the sentencing chain.

25th November 2010

The Policy Exchange has released a rather damning report on the current position and success of community sentences within England and Wales, suggesting a broad overhaul and reorientation.

UK: Civitas report on 'Prison, Community Sentencing and Crime'

28th August 2010

Professor Ken Pease, the renowned criminologist, has written a report for the Institute for the Study of Civil Society (Civitas) in which he suggests that the incapacitation effect of imprisonment has a significant impact in reducing crime. His claims have been widely condemned by those working in the area of penal reform.

US: Reading courses as an alternative to prison

21st July 2010

In Texas, offenders are being sent on reading courses instead of going to prison.

Drug Treatment Court to be Expanded

24th May 2010

The numbers being processed through the Drug Treatment Court are to be expanded following a review which shows that the scheme has reduced reoffending rates.

Irish Times: Minimise use of custody with fewer but better cells

14th May 2010

Professor Ian O'Donnell, writing in the Irish Times, presses home the need for a rethink of penal expansionism.

Irish Examiner: Project bridges the gap

14th May 2010

Since 1991, Dublin's Bridge Project has been working with persistent offenders and offering an alternative to prison.

Oireachtas Seminar on Community Sanctions

31st March 2010

Dr Mairead Seymour and Prof Ian O'Donnell on the need for the proper resourcing of community sanctions.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.

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