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
NOTES FOR EDITOR