Irish Penal Reform Trust

5 Key Recommendations for the Programme for Government 2020+

"Invest in health and housing, not prison spaces"

Here we detail FIVE priorities which we believe should be included in a new programme for government, to build safer and more equal communities. IPRT proposals and recommendations are supported by a wide body of solid evidence and research, available here.

We have an overview of our recommendations below, but you can click here for a more detailed look at the issues, IPRT's proposed solutions and relevant policy recommendations.

IPRT's priority calls on the next Programme for Government are:

  1. Pass and enact the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018
  2. Establish a cross-departmental Task Force on mental health and imprisonment
  3. Invest in Community-Based Sanctions and Restorative Justice  
  4. Establish the Penal Policy Consultative Council
  5. Ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture (OPCAT)

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1. Pass and enact the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018

Thousands of people in Ireland with past conviction histories experience life-long barriers to accessing work, training, education, insurance and more. This can amount to a punishment that is disproportionate to the gravity of the offence(s) committed. Barriers to employment, in particular, may undermine a person’s ability to meet their economic needs, which can increase the likelihood of reoffending.

Independent Senator Lynn Ruane’s Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018  is at Report Stage as of November 2019. Under the Bill as amended, current spent convictions law will be extended. Welcome aspects of the Bill include that there is no limit on the amount of eligible convictions that may become spent, and distinct provisions for young adults.

More info: www.iprt.ie/spent-convictions

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2. Establish a cross-departmental Task Force on mental health and imprisonment

People with acute mental health issues are ending up in the prison system due to a lack of access to appropriate mental health services in the community. This must stop. The recommended Task Force should be led by the Department of the Taoiseach, comprising senior representatives from the Department of Health, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Health Service Executive, the Irish Prison Service, the National Forensic Mental Health Service, An Garda Síochána and the Courts Service.

The Task Force should have particular focus on:

  • diversion routes away from the criminal justice system;
  • investment in community-based mental health services;
  • access to appropriate therapeutic settings;
  • a review of gaps in current legislation; and
  • resourcing of prison psychology services.

The IPRT PIPS 2019 report finds that there are approximately 300 people with severe mental illness in Irish prisons, with an average 20-30 people awaiting transfer to receive treatment in the Central Mental Hospital at any given time.

More info: Standard 13 - Mental Healthcare in IPRT’s Progress in the Penal System: 2019

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3. Invest in Community-Based Sanctions and Restorative Justice  

Ireland is over-reliant on imprisonment as punishment. Community sanctions are cheaper, more effective, promote pro-social behaviour and active citizenship, and are less damaging than prison. Despite this, more short sentences (3,104) were handed down in 2018 than community service orders (2,499).

The next Programme for Government must commit to investment in community-based sanctions nationwide, including national roll out of evidence-led approaches such as restorative justice.

More info: IPRT Discussion Paper (2017) Community Service in Ireland, A Qualitative Exploration of one alternative to short-term imprisonment and IPRT Position Paper 8 (2010) Community Sanctions.     

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4. Establish Penal Policy Consultative Council as recommended in the Strategic Review of Penal Policy

The Strategic Review of Penal Policy recommends the establishment of a Consultative Council, a key mechanism that would advise on penal policy issues. A chairperson formally accepted appointment to the Consultative Council in November 2015 and invitations to members were issued. However, since then no initial meeting has taken place.

It is critically important that the incoming government maintain the current commitment to supporting the development of evidence-led policy, outlined in the Department of Justice and Equality Data and Research Strategy 2018-2020. It is also critical that all policy and legislative proposals are grounded in evidence of what works to reduce crime, and subject to robust impact assessment before introduction.

More info:  Standard 1 - Towards a Progressive Penal Policy in IPRT’s Progress in the Penal System: 2019.   

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5. Ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture (OPCAT)

Human rights abuses can take place unseen behind closed doors. External independent monitoring of all places where people can be deprived of their liberty in Ireland needs to be strengthened to prevent potential torture and ill-treatment. Ireland is one of the last three remaining EU countries yet to ratify OPCAT, despite repeated government commitments since Ireland signed the treaty in 2007. Legislation to ratify the OPCAT and establish a National Preventive Mechanism needs to be brought forward to improve accountability in all places where people can be detained.  

More info: www.opcat-ireland.com

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These are IPRT's five key recommendations for inclusion in the next Programme for Government, 2020 - 2025. Click here for a more detailed look at the issues, IPRT's proposed solutions and relevant policy recommendations.

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

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