Irish Penal Reform Trust

Progress towards an effective penal system, 2011-2016

5th February 2016

Transforming Ireland’s penal system

In February 2011, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) put together ten priority policy proposals for reform that would help build safer communities. In March 2011, we welcomed key commitments included in the Programme for Government 2011-2016.

Where are we 5 years on?

Action on Programme for Government commitments since 2011 has seen real progress towards addressing critical human rights abuses, including overcrowding, slopping out, and imprisonment of children. This has been matched with innovation: new ideas and new approaches to crime and punishment, arising from reviews of the effectiveness of Ireland’s justice system.


  • Chronic overcrowding in prisons has been safely reduced by 10% from 2011 peaks.
  • Concrete progress achieved towards ending the inhumane and degrading practice of slopping out in Irish prisons: the number of men slopping out will be reduced to under 100 by end February 2016, down from 1,000 in 2011.
  • Mountjoy Prison has been renovated, with in-cell sanitation, and is operating at single cell occupancy.
  • The new Cork Prison will open in February 2016, ending slopping out in cramped, shared cells.
  • Reduction in numbers held in solitary confinement, which can have irreversible impact on mental health, from around 200 prisoners in 2013 to 80 in 2016.

Youth Justice

  • Transfer of the Irish Youth Justice Service to the new Department of Children and Youth Affairs (2012).
  • Removal of the exclusion of children detained in the adult prison system from making individual complaints to the Ombudsman for Children (2012).
  • Building of new children detention school facilities at Oberstown towards ending the practice of imprisoning 16- and 17-year-old boys in St Patrick’s Institution (2012 and 2016 respectively).


  • Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act 2011, which obliges judges to consider community sanctions in lieu of custodial sentences under 1 year.
  • Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014, which introduces a number of provisions towards ending the damaging and wasteful practice of imprisonment for fines default.
  • Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Bill 2012, which when signed into law and enacted, will allow certain minor convictions to become spent after 7 years.


  • Extension of the Inspector of Prisons’ remit to include investigations into deaths in prison custody, with the reports made public (2012).


  • Introduction of the highly successful Community Return Programme, which offers incentivised early release for prisoners serving long sentences to complete their sentences carrying out work in the community. Compliance rates of 90% have been reported.
  • The inter-agency Community Support Programme in Cork, which diverts prisoners serving sentences of less than 12 months to supported community-based sanctions.
  • Innovative inter-agency approaches to reoffending, including J-ARC and joint Irish Prison Service / Probation Service strategies on discrete categories of offender.
  • Strategic Review of Penal Policy (2012-2014)

IPRT strongly believes that the significant progress achieved since 2011 now offers Ireland a solid foundation for further progressive reform over the next 5 years.

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



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