28th April 2023
IPRT welcomes the focus on the impacts of overcrowding from the Prison Officers Association (POA) as part of their conference on 27 April 2023. IPRT agree that the current overcrowded conditions for people in prison, and the knock-on impacts, are not acceptable in 2023.
However, we are concerned by subsequent comments from Minister for Justice, Simon Harris, regarding proposals to expand the prison estate. Simply creating more prison spaces is not necessarily the answer to overcrowding and it is of particular concern to see the suggestion of Thornton Hall as part of the response to prison overcrowding. IPRT successfully campaigned against this proposal previously, with much research to back up why this would not be a suitable project.
IPRT stress that a quicker and more effective response to overcrowding would be to prioritise other penal reform measures as mentioned in the Review of Penal Policy Options, and by the Minister in the same statement as above, such as requiring judges to consider non-custodial and community-based sanctions; improving community service; reviewing the Community Support Scheme and Community Return Programme; implementing the High Level Task Force on Mental Health & Addiction recommendations and reviewing the Fines Act.
Within the Review of Penal Policy Options, the Government has laid out an ambitious roadmap for a more progressive penal policy that references these solutions to address overcrowding and includes commitments to consider incorporating prison as a last resort in law and expand the range of available community sanctions. What we need now is to see sustained investment and focus on realising these policy objectives: this should remain the priority, not resorting to measures aimed at expanding Ireland’s prison estate.