Irish Penal Reform Trust

IPRT welcomes Penal Policy Review and Action Plan as a Major Step in the Right Direction

31st August 2022

The Irish Penal Reform Trust has today (Wed 31 August 2022) welcomed the Penal Policy Review and associated Action Plan approved by Cabinet. 

The Review builds on the previous work of the Penal Policy Review Group, the 2014 Strategic Review of Penal Policy, the 2018 report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Penal Reform and the work of the Inter-Agency Group for Co-operation for a Fairer and Safer Ireland. 

Responding to the Review and Plan, Saoirse Brady, Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), stated:  

“Today’s publication of the Review of Policy Options for Prison and Penal Reform has been long anticipated and represents a comprehensive and ambitious roadmap to transform not only the prison system as we know it but the entire penal system. We commend Minister McEntee and her officials for their forward thinking and their commitment to ensuring that prison will be a sanction of last resort.

“IPRT particularly welcomes the clear focus on community-based sanctions and alternatives to custody to ensure that people who commit a low-level offence do not have to serve a prison sentence. Not only will this save the taxpayer money, it will ensure that justice is delivered in a more appropriate and proportionate way while at the same time reducing levels of reoffending and supporting individuals to turn away from crime, ultimately to the benefit of society. 

“The stated aim of reducing the number of people sent to prison recognises the disruptive impact that short sentences in particular can have on individuals, as well as the ways in which prison can contribute to reoffending. The aim of moving away from short custodial sentences of less than 12 months is therefore particularly welcome. Removing people sentenced for short periods from the prison population can help to improve the management of prison services and means that people serving longer sentences should have increased access to better living conditions and relevant rehabilitative interventions.  

“The establishment of a Penal Policy Consultative Council - a body that IPRT has repeatedly advocated for – will provide an important forum to provide oversight, consistency and independent advice to the Minister for Justice which will in turn help drive implementation of the Review’s recommendations and actions. 

“Ultimately, to deliver on the actions announced today, implementation and allocation of sufficient resources will be key. Unless the Government makes a significant investment, this Plan – which has so much potential – will become just another policy paper that sits on the shelf”.   

Ms Brady sounded a word of caution on the development of the Irish Prison Service Capital Strategy beyond 2022: 

“While IPRT welcomes the plan’s commitment to invest in modernising and updating the prison estate, which will help to ensure that every person in prison has adequate facilities and that their dignity is upheld, it is important that we do not simply create more prison spaces to fill. To meet the ambitious targets set by this plan, the emphasis must remain at all times on providing stronger alternatives to imprisonment, and attention must not be diverted to plans for expanding the prison estate”.  

As for the Review’s commitments to review life and mandatory minimum sentences, and the operation of early release measures such as remission and structured temporary release, IPRT will be following these proposals closely to ensure they meet the overarching goal that punishment is proportionate and assists in offenders’ rehabilitation and reintegration. IPRT supports a review of early release mechanisms which should include consideration of removing the statutory bar on temporary release for people convicted of certain drug and firearms offences.  

While welcoming the inclusion of spent convictions within the Review, Ms Brady noted: 

“The Review rightly recognises the significant work that has already been done by independent Senator Lynn Ruane and the Department of Justice in devising a more expansive spent convictions regime that goes beyond the measures adopted in the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016. It is imperative that this work continues apace and that the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 is progressed without further delay”. 

Finally, the Review’s recognition that effective responses to crime require a whole-of-Government approach is crucial. Many of the root causes of offending, such as addiction, mental health, homelessness and educational disadvantage require responses that go beyond the justice sector and must be addressed at an interdepartmental and interagency level. IPRT also welcomes the Review’s emphasis on the need to ensure all criminal justice policy decisions are pre-assessed to determine their potential impact across the criminal justice sector, for example the proposed increase in Gardaí and creating new criminal offences, may well result in increased pressure on the Irish Prison Service at the other end and this potential outcome needs to be mitigated.  

Ms Brady concluded: 

“The Review’s solution-based approach to the whole penal system and basing policy on evidence of what works for an individual, is potentially transformative and – if implemented – will ensure a more coherent, effective and humane penal system going forward”.  

For all media enquiries or for interviews requests, please contact Saoirse Brady, Executive Director on 087 181 2990 


  1. The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy.  
  1. The ‘Criminal Justice Policy: Review of Policy Options for Prison and Penal Reform 2022-2024' is available here.  
  1. Re-offending and Prison Statistics: The Review references various statistics and figures in support of many of its proposals, including: 
  • CSO statistics in 2021 found that 44.6% of those sentenced to a period in custody re-offended within a one-year period, compared to 29% for those sentenced to sanctions in the community. (p.9) 
  • Probation Supervision in 2020 was estimated to cost approx.. €5,712 per year. The average annual cost of an available, staffed prison space in 2020 by contrast was €80,445 (and if the extraordinary, once-off expenditure items incurred in prisons during 2020 is removed, the cost would have been approx. €76,632). (p.10) 
  • The Community Service (Amendment) Act 2011 had an immediate impact on custodial sentences of 12 months or less, with an average year-on-year decrease in the number of short sentences handed down between 2011-2016. The impact of this legislation, however, has been gradually reducing since 2016. (p.13) 
  • As of 30th June 2022, there were 4,154 persons in custody and 926 on remand. (p.32) 
  • The daily average number in custody peaked at 4,108 in February 2020, before subsequently declining by 9.8% (-401) to 3,707 in June 2020. In 2021, the daily average number in custody was on an upward trajectory until July, with a seasonal decrease evident in August, before increasing again in October. From May 2020 to May 2022, there was a 7% increase (+273) in the daily average number of persons in custody. (p.31) 
  • The daily average number of persons held on remand has increased year-on-year since 2015. From 2015 to 2021, there was a 30% increase in the daily average number of persons held on remand, from 496 to 712 persons. The daily average on remand has been increasing since July 2021 and by May 2022 had reached a new peak of 897. (p.31, p.33) 
  • The proportion of female committals on trial/remand has increased steadily, from 62% of all female committals in 2013, to 71% of all female committals in 2017. This figure remained static from 2017 to 2018, before decreasing slightly in 2019. (p.34) 
  1. Relevant IPRT Submissions: IPRT has made numerous submissions on topics relevant to the matters discussed in the Review of Policy Options, including:  

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



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