Irish Penal Reform Trust

Party manifesto analysis 2020: Social Democrats

The Social Democrats launched their election manifesto, ‘Invest in Better’, on the 31st January 2020. It can be accessed here. Below, IPRT analyses relevant proposals under ‘Crime and Policing’,  ‘Disability’, and ‘Mental Health’, which can be accessed here.

Analysis of individual policy proposals:

(i) Sentencing, Prisons and Rehabilitation 

Key commitments related to sentencing, prisons and rehabilitation contained in the Social Democrats manifesto include: 

  • Examining the suitability of the current prison model with a view to improving rehabilitation and lowering recidivism.

IPRT welcomes this commitment. Prison is damaging to individuals, families and communities, and therefore should be reserved for the most serious offences. Where prison is the only appropriate response, the harmful effects of imprisonment must be minimised through decent prison conditions, access to meaningful activity, and normalisation. Rehabilitation should be a core aim of the penal system in Ireland, towards reducing recidivism and thus supporting safer communities.

  • In place of frequent warnings or suspended sentences, make greater use of community service orders overseen by probation officers.      

IPRT agrees that there should be increased use of community service orders (CSOs). However, CSOs should be used as a direct alternative to imprisonment, to avoid the unintended effect of ‘net-widening’, drawing more low-level offenders deeper into the criminal justice system. Other alternatives to prison, including mentoring, case-management, community courts and restorative justice approaches, should be explored.

See IPRT Community Service in Ireland for more detail on the benefits of community service compared with short term sentences.

See also Standard 2 on Imprisonment as a last resort in PIPS 2019

  • Ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and establish a National Preventive Mechanism.  

IPRT welcomes the clear commitment in the Social Democrats manifesto to ratify the OPCAT. Ireland signed OPCAT in 2007 but has not yet ratified this important treaty, despite multiple commitments by government. Monitoring and inspection of all places of detention is central to the prevention of torture and ill-treatment in prison and other detention settings, including secure psychiatric facilities and children’s secure homes. For more information, see standard 24 on Inspections and Monitoring in PIPS 2019.  

  • Establish a multi-agency Task Force on Mental Health

IPRT strongly endorses the proposal to establish a multi-agency Mental Health Task Force to examine the high rates of mental health issues amongst the prison population. We have similarly recommended a  high-level, multi-agency task force, see here.

See standard 13 on Mental Healthcare in PIPS 2019

(ii) Crime and Policing

IPRT welcomes a commitment to invest in youth facilities to help prevent young people entering crime. IPRT recommends that justice reinvestment is needed in communities with high crime rates in order to tackle social disadvantage. For more on this, see IPRT’s position paper (2012) The Vicious Circle of Social Exclusion and Crime: Ireland’s Disproportionate Punishment by the Poor.

IPRT also broadly supports a proposed commitment to a Community Policing Model.

(iii) Disability

IPRT supports the proposed commitment to Ratifying the Optional Protocol of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. IPRT also welcomes a commitment to fully commencing the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015. See IPRT’s recent report Making Rights Real for People with Disabilities in Prison.

(iv) Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

IPRT welcomes a commitment for victims of crime to access quick, clear and independent complaints through the establishment of an Ombudsman.


For IPRT's 'Smart Justice, Safer Communities' Policy Proposals 2016-2021, click here.

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

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