Irish Penal Reform Trust

New Programme for Government offers framework for tackling problems in penal system

7th March 2011


The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), Ireland’s leading penal reform campaign organisation, has today welcomed the significant proposals for reform in the areas of sentencing and prison policy included in the Programme for Government, Government for National Recovery 2011 - 2016. IPRT believes that the new Government has a unique opportunity to build on the widespread national and international recognition that policies of increased incarceration have failed, and that penal reform is necessary, achievable and will make society safer.

In particular, IPRT welcomes commitments to:

  • Strengthen the rights of victims of crime and their families within the justice process
  • Shift towards less costly non-custodial options for non-violent and less serious offenders through ending imprisonment for fines and debt, and through obliging judges to consider Community Service Orders for offences that would usually receive custodial sentences of less than 12 months
  • Review mandatory sentencing laws in the context of an overall review of drugs policy
  • End the practice of sending children to St. Patrick’s Institution
  • Ensure better coordination between the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service towards creating an integrated offender management programme
  • Strengthen the powers of the Inspector of Prisons and reform the Prison Visiting Committees
  • Review the proposal to build a new prison at Thornton Hall, whilst committing to upgrading prison facilities, with reference to in-cell sanitation (albeit within available resources)
  • The enhancementof prison security

As well as penal reform proposals, there are also a number of welcome commitments in related areas of policy, including: a comprehensive set of commitments on drugs policy; the extension of youth diversion and restorative justice schemes; mental health care reform; and commitments to address long-term homelessness and educational disadvantage. Crime cannot be viewed as a social problem in isolation from deeper social and economic issues, and prevention and early intervention strategies are proven to make more social an economic sense in the longer-term.

Welcoming the new Programme for Government today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said:

“In committing to policies based on imprisonment as a last resort and the respect for the human rights of everyone, including victims, IPRT believes the right steps are being taken towards creating better and safer communities.

“The new Government now has a unique opportunity to get it right, and this Programme provides a good framework to get to the heart of the problems facing the penal system. Some of the proposals in the Programme build on the policies of the outgoing Government, but they also present a much more comprehensive programme of reform. We particularly welcome the commitments to review plans to build a super-prison at Thornton Hall, to end the imprisonment of children in St Patrick’s Institution, and to strengthen accountability within the prison system.”

“The Programme offers political leadership for penal reform – and IPRT is hopeful that with that leadership and the commitment of all the agencies and stakeholders in the system, real progress can be made over the lifetime of the Government and Dáil.”

For all media enquiries, please contact:

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Campaigns & Communications Officer, Irish Penal Reform Trust

T: + 353 1 874 1400           E:


1. Figures

  • There were 4,541 prisoners in custody on 25th Jan 2011 (Source: Inspector of Prisons)
  • The numbers of prisoners in custody doubled between 1997 and 2011
  • Prisoner numbers are rising by 11-13% per year (Source: IPS Annual Reports)
  • Around 220 sixteen and seventeen year old boys pass through St. Patrick’s Institution every year. (Source: IPS Annual Reports)
  • 1,003 prisoners have to ‘slop out’; a further 1,866 are required to use normal toilet facilities in the presence of others. (Source: Dáil Question, 27 Jan 2011)

2. Government for National Recovery 2011 - 2016

The document is available here: (Section on ‘Justice and Law Reform’ begins pg 47.)

3. Sanitation and Slopping out in the Irish prison system – Briefing

IPRT details the provision of in-cell sanitation across the Irish prison estate, identifying how the problems associated with slopping out are further exacerbated by overcrowding. Briefing available here.

4. Detention of Children in St Patrick’s Institution – Briefing

IPRT has outlined our serious concerns about the ongoing detention of children in St Patrick’s Institution, which is in breach of human rights standards, in a short briefing available here.

5. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT)

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.

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



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