6 party manifestos - analysis from penal reform perspective
Here, IPRT looks at the positions
of the main parties on crime and punishment issues as set out in the party manifestos, and assesses party commitments against our ten key priorities for the next government. Overall
there are encouraging signs of an emerging political consensus around the need
for penal reform and, in particular, the need for a reduction in the use of
imprisonment for less serious offenders.
See also Liam Herrick's overview and analysis on politico.ie
The FF Election Manifesto 2011 “Real Plan:
Better Future” does not address justice
Fine Gael Manifesto(See 6. Crime, Justice and Drugs, pg 27)
- A number of proposals address White Collar Crime, Policing, Judicial Reform and broad
- Proposals on organised crime and drugs include reference
to the role of the prisons with regard to the drug trade, and commitments to introduce x-ray
scanners and mobile signal blocking technology to all prisons, and to
prosecuting and cutting remission for prisoners found with mobile phones.
- On prison
policy, Fine Gael says it will “revisit the proposal to build a new prison at
Thornton Hall and consider alternatives to avoid the enormous cost yet to be
incurred by the state in building a new prison.”
the most radical proposal is to merge the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service “to
provide an end-to-end offender management system and to reduce administrative
costs.”[A similar reform was put in
place in the UK in recent years with mixed results.]
- On sentencing,
the FG manifesto refers to: “overhauling
current sentencing practices to ensure violent criminals serve their full term
in prison”. [On its own, this is somewhat ambiguous. However, in the context of
very positive proposals to end short term sentences and imprisonment for fine
default and debt (proposals, it must be noted, already progressed by the
current government) it may be interpreted as freeing up prison spaces to be
used for violent offenders.]
- FG also
proposes an end to automatic remission, linking it to good behaviour, participation in
education and training and completion of treatment programmes.[In principle, incentivising engagement with
services is a positive step, but problems have arisen in the UK where prisoners
were not able to access services due to cutbacks. It’s also difficult to assess
what impact this would have in practice as judges are currently cognisant of
remissions rates when setting sentences.Moreover, there is some scepticism about the value of involuntary
engagement with treatment programmes.]
- Electronic tagging is proposed for
high risk sex offenders on their release from prison to reduce the risk of
- There is also a
welcome commitment to targeting resources to “increasing the number of needle
exchange programmes and rehabilitation places across the country where it is
- The reference to carrying out a review of the Drug Treatment Court
Programme (DTC) is somewhat non-committal, as such a review is already under
- FG proposes to introduce ‘Social Investment
Bonds’ (currently being piloted in the UK) "to help voluntary bodies to finance interventions that
cut rates of homelessness and re-imprisonment, by re-integrating ex prisoners
into society and the workforce."
- Fine Gael’s proposals for wide-ranging public
sector reform may have impact in relation to prison accountability and
oversight, but nothing specific is identified in the manifesto.
- FG has also committed to abolishing prison visiting committees, which make up 15 of
the 145 quangos they intend to scrap.
The Green Party dedicates a specific section of its
manifesto to Prison Reform, with very clear commitments to:
- Establish a Working Group on
Penal Reform to develop alternatives to custody.
- Abolish plans to relocate
Mountjoy to Thornton Hall and instead review options to refurbish and extend
the present building. [The Greens are the only party committing to the scrapping
of the Thornton Hall project.]
- Remove children under the age
of 18 from St Patrick’s Institution.
- Legislate to place the
Inspector of Prisons on a fully independent and statutory footing, explore the
possibility of establishing an Ombudsman for Prisons and ratify the Optional
Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT)
- Explore the possibility of
developing an after-prison support system, with one agency coordinating fully
integrated supports for accommodation, education, employment.
- The Greens also commit to setting down a timeline for
the full implementation of the Victims’ Charter and to ensuring that all Garda
trainees receive comprehensive training in victims’ care and victims’ issues.
Labour Manifesto (See 13. Reforming Policing and Justice,pg 55)
The Labour Party has previously published a more detailed policy
document on penal reform, which includes proposals that IPRT would broadly
support. However, the manifesto differs slightly in substance:
- While Labour propose that the prosecution should be able to make a
submission to the court on the appropriate sentence, they say that this should
also include drawing attention to non-incarceration options. More generally,
they are proposing a Sentencing Bill which will set out aggravating and
mitigating circumstances towards greater overall consistency and transparency
- Increased community policing,
youth justice and diversion are all named as priorities for Labour.
- Labour commits to enshrining in law the principle
of imprisonment as a penalty of last resort for non-violent offenders, along with
an increased emphasis on community service orders.
- The party
commits to a greater use of open prisons for appropriate
prisoners, and the expansion of the drugs court.
also make more general commitments to address
overcrowding and drug use in Ireland’s prisons.
- There are a number of punitive proposals included
under ‘strengthening the justice system’, including: post-release civil orders
(such as restraints on consumption of alcohol, curfews, or restrictions on the
use of the Internet by those convicted of child sex offences); a violent
offenders’ register; and a proposal for “re-harmonised and extended detention
periods for all violent and serious crime to avoid anomalies that now exist”. [This last proposal is somewhat vague but might be
interpreted as calling for harsher sentences.]
- Labour also addresses victims’ rights separately
with reference to practical measure to address delays in the bringing of cases
to trial, and a number of proposals to support victims in the trial process.
Sinn Féin Manifesto (See Local Communities Made Safe, pg 31; no mention of prison)
- Proposals to increase
the number of Gardaí and Community Gardaí on the ground, focusing on building
better relationships between the community and the Gardaí.
- Prioritises the
tackling of organised crime, including a proposal to invest all monies
confiscated by the Criminal Assets Bureau in those communities worst affected
Féin also plans to introduce sentencing guidelines and judicial training to
ensure that sentences handed down are appropriate to the crime committed and proportionate
to the harm caused to the victim and the community.
- There are no specific
references to prisons issues.
United Left Alliance (Programme rather than manifesto; no mention of crime or prison)
The parties that make up the ULA have not included any
specific proposals for reform on crime, sentencing or prisons in their