Irish Penal Reform Trust

High rates of reoffending following imprisonment for less serious crime demands alternative response – IPRT

5th August 2020

New figures published by the Central Statistics Office today (Wednesday, 5th August 2020) find that 55.2% of people released from prison in 2014 reoffended within 3 years. Nearly 80% of those aged under 21 when they were committed to prison reoffended within three years of being released, and 75% of people imprisoned for public order offences reoffended within three years.

In response, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is calling for: investment in health, community and social services; increased emphasis by the courts on alternatives to prison; coordination of data collection across justice agencies; and distinct approaches to offending by young adults.

IPRT welcomes the overall reduction in reoffending rates from 2011 to 2017, which reflects a period of reduced crowding and investment in rehabilitation in Ireland’s prison system. However, recidivism rates remain high at 55.2%, when compared with other European jurisdictions. Among the highest rates of reoffending on release from prison were those originally imprisoned for public order and social code (75.8%) and theft (67.9%) offences.

Commenting on the overall figures, IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said:

“Reducing reoffending is one of the key benchmarks of an effective justice system. The overall reduction in recidivism between 2011 and 2017 is positive, and reflects a period of reduced prison crowding and investment in rehabilitation. However, reoffending rates remain too high and this demands alternative responses, including discrete strategies for young adults and women, who have particularly poor outcomes following imprisonment.”

Commenting on the high rates of reoffending by those imprisoned for public order and theft offences, Ní Chinnéide continued:

“Prison does not and cannot solve the homelessness, poverty, addictions, trauma and mental health issues that often underlie persistent low-level offending. Instead of punishing disadvantage, we need to see investment in addressing the root causes of offending, including provision of housing, mental health and addictions services in the community.

“Alternatives such as integrated community service orders are less damaging than prison, less costly, and the community benefits too. While there needs to be sustained investment in community-based alternatives for those who do come before the Courts, this needs to be met by utilisation of these alternatives by the judiciary. If the Courts do not have confidence in the appropriateness or efficacy of alternatives to prison, research should be undertaken to understand why.”

Reoffending continues to be highest among younger people, with nearly 80% of those aged under 21 when they were committed to prison reoffending within three years of release. Ireland is lagging behind our European neighbours with respect to tailored evidence-informed approaches to offending by this age group.

Commenting on rates of reoffending by under-21s, Ní Chinnéide said:

“Young adults aged 18 to 24 are more responsive to rehabilitative measures than older adults, but the wrong interventions can limit opportunities and even deepen offending behaviour, with imprisonment leading to particularly poor lifetime outcomes for young people. Effective interventions include supervised bail schemes, diversion, mentoring, and restorative justice. The new Youth Justice Strategy proposes a number of non-custodial approaches for young adults aged 18-24. It is critical now that this strategy is finalised, implemented and resourced by the Department of Justice.”

IPRT welcomes the introduction by the CSO of a shorter time period over which to measure reoffending. This new one-year rate, in conjunction with the longer three-year rate, offers a more up-to-date understanding of reoffending. Reliable robust data is crucial to adequately monitor the outcomes for individuals released from prison, as well as the effectiveness of policy responses. Ms Ní Chinnéide continued:

“Coordination of data collection and research across all the criminal justice agencies is essential to the development of evidence-based penal policy. However, each year, statistics on reoffending are released under reservation by the CSO, who continue to note concerns over the quality of the data. Reliable data results in better understanding of the characteristics impacting recidivism in Ireland, which not only allows for more tailored and effective responses for the individual, but ultimately has immense impacts on the entire community as recidivism is reduced through these responses.”

Recidivism by older people continues to be low (29.5%) in comparison to all other age groups. Older people in particular present a lower risk to public safety, but also have increasing health needs, which are made worse by imprisonment. Elderly people should only ever be imprisoned as a last resort, and only for the most serious offences. This is important at any time, but absolutely critical during COVID-19.

While a reduction in prison numbers and a focus on alternatives in recent months shows what is possible, short-term solutions for immediate problems around COVID-19 must not detract from action on long-term policy responses for systemic issues such as reoffending rates.

For further comment, please contact Fíona at: +353 87 181 2990



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