Irish Penal Reform Trust

Round-up: All-Party Oireachtas Group on Penal Reform meeting on reimagining prison and punishment

24th April 2024


The All-Party Oireachtas Group on Penal Reform met on the morning of Wednesday 24 April 2024 in the AV-Room in Leinster House. Deputy Alan Farrell and Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin are co-chairs of the All-Party Group, with Deputy Farrell chairing the meeting itself. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) supported the facilitation of the event. Many politicians and representatives were in attendance and engaged with the Q&A session at the end.  

The theme of the meeting was ‘Reimagining Prison and Punishment’. Two fantastic speakers joined the event from Cork and Limerick to share their insight and expertise with the group. Michelle Kennedy, Multisystemic Supervisor, Bail Supervision Scheme, Extern (Limerick), discussed the Bail Supervision Scheme, and Sheila Connolly, CEO of Cork Alliance Centre, discussed the positive impact of the community support scheme and the work of the Centre in supporting desistance from crime. Wrapping up the meeting, Saoirse Brady, Executive Director of IPRT, spoke about the European Movement for Detention Housing as an alternative to the approach of building more and/or expanding prisons. 

For further information about these issues, speakers’ slides are available for Michelle Kennedy and Sheila Connolly, and are attached below. Some key points from their presentations are set out below.  

[Picture 1 L-R: Deputy Ivana Bacik (Labour Party), Saoirse Brady (Irish Penal Reform Trust), Sheila Connolly (Cork Alliance Centre), Michelle Kennedy (Extern, Limerick), Deputy Alan Farrell (Fine Gael)]

Bail Supervision Scheme (BSS) 

Michelle Kennedy, Multisystemic Supervisor in Limerick, outlined how the BSS was first established as a pilot in Dublin in 2016 and was later extended to greater Dublin, Cork and Limerick in 2021. It applies only in relation to those under the age of 18. It gives the Court an option of Bail with added therapeutic supports as an alternative to remand. In a pilot in 2016, it led to a 72% reduction in offending among young people.  

One BSS treatment model is multisystemic therapy. This is high-intensity, individualised and targeted, and engages the whole family (not just the young person, but their parents and siblings too). Michelle discussed an anonymised case study to illustrate how the model can work successfully and listed some of the many unquantifiable benefits and savings offered by this approach of bail with therapeutic supports. For further information, Michelle can be contacted at  


Community Support Scheme (CSS) 

Sheila Connolly, CEO of the Cork Alliance Centre, spoke about their programme of the Community Support Scheme. All referrals to the CSS are made by the Irish Prison Service using temporary release. CSS is run in conjunction with the Irish Prison Service and offers prisoners serving sentences between 3 and 12 months the opportunity to serve part of their sentence in the community rather than in the prison.  

Sheila referenced the Pobal ‘HP Deprivation Indices 2022’ map of Cork city and spoke of a direct correlation between poverty and those serving prison sentences – referencing how imprisonment data (e.g. address) would closely match this deprivation index location. She discussed how Irish prisons are being used as ‘holding places of social problems’ (Cambridge et al., 2022). Serving sentences in the community allows individuals to sustain housing and build meaningful relationships, and the Cork Alliance Centre provides an environment with supports whereby individuals can connect and develop healthy relationships, leading to long-lasting change.  


European Movement for Detention Housing  

Finally, Saoirse Brady, spoke about the European movement for scaled-down or small-scale detention housing as a progressive alternative to the current approach of building more prisons. This is particularly timely in light of recent government discussions and plans to expand prison capacity by 600+ spaces. This rhetoric is of particular concern considering that Irish prisons are now holding nearly 5,000 people, of which almost 1,000 are being held on remand (pre-trial detention). There is a pressing need to reimagine what our prison system could be. 

IPRT is a member of RESCALED and Pamela Drumgoole, IPRT’s Policy & Research Coordinator is Country Ambassador. Characteristics of scaled-down detention housing include the following: 

  • Small-scale; to house between 8-30 people which results in better relationships and more trust between people in detention and staff. 
  • ‘Differentiation’; this refers to matching both the security level and programmes (education, work and counselling) to the needs of the individuals. 
  • Community integrated; the intent is for people in the detention house to interact with the wider community, e.g., to make use of services available in the community, ensure continuity of service on release and that the detention house provides a communal or shared space accessible to the wider community for events for example.   

[Picture 1 L-R: Sydney Ellis (IPRT Volunteer), Deputy Thomas Gould (Sinn Féin), Sheila Connolly (Cork Alliance Centre), Saoirse Brady (Irish Penal Reform Trust), Michelle Kennedy (Extern, Limerick), Deputy Alan Farrell (Fine Gael), Deputy Patrick Costello (Green Party), Dr. Helen Kehoe (IPRT Legal and Policy Affairs), Picture 2 L-R: Deputy Thomas Gould (Sinn Féin), Saoirse Brady (Irish Penal Reform Trust), Deputy Pa Daly (Sinn Féin), Michelle Kennedy (Extern, Limerick), Sheila Connolly (Cork Alliance Centre), Deputy Patrick Costello (Green Party)]


For more information about the work of the All-Party Oireachtas Group on Penal Reform, see our dedicated webpage.

Members of the Oireachtas, along with researchers and other support staff, are all very welcome to join the All-Party Oireachtas Group on Penal Reform. To find out more, please contact us at

April 2024
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