Irish Penal Reform Trust

Are We 5 Steps Closer to Better and Safer Communities?

In 2016, we published 5 priority calls on the Government formed after the 2016 general election.  Where are we 4 years on?

1. A clear commitment to coherent and evidence-informed penal policy, grounded in crime data analysis, which is made public.

What we said in 2016:

Progress and reforms achieved since 2011 means that there is now a strong foundation on which to work towards a model penal system in Ireland – one that is led by evidence and innovation, and not crisis-management.

What we say now:

The Department of Justice and Equality published its Data and Research Strategy 2018-2021 in 2018. IPRT welcomes that the Department is commissioning research in the areas of recidivism and confidence in the criminal justice system. The Prison Psychology Service has placed increased emphasis on the importance of research and evaluation of new initiatives, with PhD studies focusing on the National Violence Reduction Unit and on engagement with life sentenced prisoners. A doctoral study on an early engagement initiative with 18-24 year olds in the prison system is also underway with University of Limerick, and a review of the Building Better Lives Programme for sexual violence in conjunction with University College Dublin. These developments are promising in terms of supporting evidenced-based policy and practice. See PIPS 2019, Standard 1.

 


 

2. A commitment to implement the recommendations of the cross-agency Strategic Review on Penal Policy

What we said in 2016:

Although the Review represents only the minimum standards that should be achieved, implementation of its recommendations would be a strong move in the right direction.

What we say now:

An implementation mechanism was built into the most recent comprehensive penal policy statement, the Strategic Review of Penal Policy (2014). To date, the Implementation Oversight Group has submitted eight progress reports (seven have been published) on the implementation of 43 recommendations. However, despite the introduction of this mechanism, minimal progress appears to have been achieved in the implementation of recommendations made. In some cases, regress has occurred. See PIPS 2019, Standard 1.


 

3. A commitment to the development by the Department of Justice of a discrete strategy for young adults aged 18–24 in conflict with the law.  

What we said in 2016:

Building on the successes of the Irish youth justice system, we need new approaches to offending by young adults aged 18-24, with particular emphasis on diversion, restorative justice, case management, and other strategies proven to be most effective with this age group.

What we say now:

With a new Youth Justice Strategy under development, there are opportunities to implement evidence-based strategies to address offending by young people.

The Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 completed the Committee Stage in Seanad Éireann on the 20th November 2019 and is now at Report Stage. The proposed Bill proposes a distinct approach to young people; including that there be a shorter rehabilitative period for the distinct cohort of 18 to <25 year olds and that there be a rehabilitative period of just one year for eligible offences committed under the age of 18.

IPRT welcomed the publication of the Evaluation of the Bail Supervision Scheme for Children (pilot scheme) by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in December 2019. The report demonstrates positive outcomes for children who participated and completed the Bail Supervision Scheme (BSS). IPRT further welcomes the commitment by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Ms Katherine Zappone TD to progress plans to roll out the Bail Supervision Scheme to make it available to a larger number of children coming through the courts. More information here


 

4. Action on commitments to establish a fully independent parole board on a statutory basis

What we said in 2016:

Decision-making around the release of prisoners must be removed from political control. More transparent and accountable structures of decision-making will bolster prisoners’ confidence in their engagement with prison services, treatments and regimes, and support rehabilitation.

What we say now:

The Parole Bill 2016, now the Parole Act 2019, passed through both houses of the Oireachtas on 11th July 2019. The Act, when enacted, will place the Parole Board on an independent statutory footing, with the power to make final decisions on the release of eligible prisoners. IPRT welcomes the passage of the Bill, having long campaigned for the establishment of an independent parole board on a statutory basis. This was a recommendation of the Law Reform Commission (2013), the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality (2013) and the Penal Policy Review Group (2014). See PIPS 2019, Standard 33.


 

5. A firm commitment to improving prison accountability - specifically:

  • the introduction an independent prisoner complaints mechanism;
  • ratification of the OPCAT;
  • and the creation of a robust National Preventative Mechanism.

What we said in 2016:

Put simply, independent oversight is key to preventing potential human rights abuses behind prison walls, while public confidence in the prison system demands transparency and accountability.

What we say now:

Despite numerous recommendations for prisoners to have access to an external independent complaints mechanism, dating as far back as the Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Penal System in 1985 (Whitaker Report) and including numerous recommendations made by both domestic and international human rights bodies, there remains no recourse for prisoners to make or appeal a complaint to an external body. A commitment to ensuring sufficient resources are allotted to the Office of the Ombudsman to receive complaints from prisoners is needed.

Ireland is one of the last three remaining European countries yet to ratify OPCAT, despite repeated government commitments since it was signed in 2007. Ratification of the OPCAT would both improve domestic oversight of all places where people can be deprived of their liberty in Ireland, through the creation of a national preventive mechanism (NPM), and add an additional level of international oversight, by way of inspections by the UN Sub-Committee against Torture. It is of critical importance that Government meets its restated commitments to ratify the OPCAT during 2020. See PIPS 2019, Standard 24.

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

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