12th October 2021
Plans to review the operation of remission in the prison system must prioritise the important role that enhanced remission plays in incentivising rehabilitation and reducing offending on release, and steer clear of extending the loss of remission as a form of discipline. Furthermore, the review should be informed by evidence, sentencing data and equality monitoring data, and any proposed changes must include the introduction of safeguards such as an independent appeals system.
These calls are being made by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), responding to the announcement on Sunday (10th October 2021) by Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Ms Hildegarde Naughton TD, of a review of remission as part of an ongoing Penal Policy Review by the Department of Justice.
Responding to the announcement of the review, IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide commented:
“Improvements to consistency, transparency and fairness in the operation of all prison regimes are to be welcomed, including access to enhanced remission, early release and temporary release which are all shown to support reintegration and reduce reoffending. However, any proposals to further reduce access to remission for breaches of prison rules must be approached with extreme caution.
“Everyone should have access to a safe environment to live and work in. This applies equally to staff and to prisoners, and incidents of violence or abuse should be investigated fully, including by An Garda Síochána appropriate.
“However, measures that make prisons safer overall include access to humane conditions, healthcare, activities like education and work, single-cell accommodation, conflict mediation, de-escalation and restorative practices. Above all, access to a trusted prison complaints system reduces tensions on landings and violence. In 2016, the Government committed to wide reform of the internal prison complaints system. It is now 2021, and this commitment has not yet been met.”
Ireland’s standard rate of remission of 25% is low when compared to neighbouring countries. Enhanced remission is designed to act as an incentive to engage in rehabilitative services while in prison. The Government has previously expressed its emphasis on the rehabilitative role of prisons; this should include extending access to enhanced remission as part of this review.
While appropriate sanctions should be in place where there is misconduct in prisons, IPRT research has found that certain groups do not have equal access to enhanced remission and regimes, such as older prisoners and prisoners with disabilities. Ms. Ní Chinnéide continued:
“IPRT research on the experiences of people with disabilities, including mental illness, in prison found that some behaviours might be interpreted as challenging or a breach of prison regime, when in fact the prisoners did not understand a specific rule, or it was a coping mechanism to deal with a prison environment not adapted to their disability. Equality monitoring data must be collected, published and acted upon to make sure that no one is further punished for reasons of age, disability or being a member of a minority ethnic group.”
Therefore, IPRT recommends that the proposed review of remission must include:
The Irish Prison Service conducted a review of the use of enhanced remission in 2017, however, this review does not appear to have been published. IPRT looks forward to the publication of the Department of Justice Penal Policy Review, which is now due to be completed and published by the end of the year.
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