Irish Penal Reform Trust

Justice Recidivism Report findings underscore need for continued commitment by government to evidence-led criminal justice policy - IPRT

27th May 2020

Community service, structured early release, and procedural fairness are among a number of factors and interventions linked with lower levels of recidivism, while community safety and public confidence in the justice system is strengthened through investment in research, data and analysis. Therefore, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is calling on the incoming government to act on the Justice Recidivism Report findings and also maintain current commitments to evidence-led criminal justice policy. IPRT was responding to the publication today (27.05.2020) of an international evidence review on recidivism and policy responses.

Key findings from the research include: suspended sentences or community service can be more effective in reducing recidivism than short terms of imprisonment; structured early release, including parole, may reduce recidivism; and that procedural fairness and a belief that one has been treated fairly may also reduce the likelihood of future offending.

An Evidence Review of Recidivism and Policy Responses was conducted by Prof. Ian O’Donnell of the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice School of Law, University College Dublin for the Department of Justice and Equality, and builds on the Department’s commitment to support the development of evidence-led policy. Welcoming this commitment, IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide stated:

“Community safety and public confidence in the justice system are promoted by investment in what actually works to reduce crime. The publication of this timely report makes clear the ongoing commitment by the Department of Justice & Equality to the development of evidence-led criminal justice policy. It is critically important that the incoming government maintain this commitment. This could be best demonstrated through prioritising the establishment of a Consultative Council, a key mechanism to advise on penal policy issues. This was a key recommendation in the cross-agency Strategic Review of Penal Policy in 2014.”

Among a number of useful findings, the research found a lack of evidential support for the deterrent effects of short-term custodial sentences. Observing that 74% of sentenced committals in Ireland in 2018 were for sentences of less than 12 months, and 53% were for sentences of less than 6 months, Ms Ní Chinnéide continued:

“Short periods of imprisonment can have long-lasting negative effects, including disruption to family relationships, contact with social or community services, and loss of employment. The research points to a lack of evidence to support the deterrent value of short-term prison sentences, and finds evidence of lower recidivism among those who are punished in the community instead. However, to improve the effectiveness of any non-custodial interventions in offending behaviour, there needs to be sustained investment in community supports, healthcare and housing. Basic needs need to be met in order to give people the best opportunity to desist from offending behaviour.”

"The report identified other important factors and measures that support lower recidivism, including procedural fairness and early release schemes, including parole. These findings must be considered in both the research agenda and policy development going forward."

Breaking the cycle of offending and reoffending is essential to building trust in the criminal justice system, promoting public safety, meeting the needs of victims, and minimising further harms to offenders and their families. IPRT looks forward to examining the findings of the research in more detail, and to engaging with the Department and the incoming Government on how this important research can inform future policy development.

Along with a renewed commitment to evidence-led criminal justice policy, IPRT's priority recommendations for the next Programme for Government are:

  1. Expand access to spent convictions, for example through passing the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018
  2. Establish a cross-departmental Task Force on mental health and imprisonment, to address the ongoing issue of imprisoning people with mental health issues, particularly for less serious offending.
  3. Invest in Community-Based Sanctions and Restorative Justice, which are proven to be more cost-effective responses to less serious offending.
  4. Establish the Penal Policy Consultative Council, as recommended by the Strategic Review of Penal Policy (2014)
  5. Ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture (OPCAT)

More information on IPRT’s ‘Key Recommendations for the next Programme for Government’ is available here:


For further comment, please contact Pamela or Fíona at: 087 181 2990



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, with prison as a last resort. See  

The Department of Justice & Equality research report on recidivism and policy responses is available here:

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



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