19th October 2023
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is today calling for increased use of community-based alternatives to prison, a reversal of plans to increase prison spaces, and amendments to existing legislation to ensure that imprisonment is a sanction of last resort. These calls come in response to yesterday’s (18 October 2023) publication of the Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2022 and today’s (19 October 2023) publication of The Probation Service Annual Report 2022 by the Minister for Justice.
The Irish Prison Service (IPS) Annual Report 2022 shows a significant increase of people committed to prison in Ireland in 2022, particularly in the number of women committed and in the number of committals on sentences of less than 12 months.
Responding to the publication of the Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2022, IPRT Executive Director Saoirse Brady said:
While there has been established cross-party support for more than a decade to reduce the number of people in prison, last year we saw a 12 per cent increase in the number of people sent to prison. We are particularly concerned that there has been an increase in the percentage of women committed with women making up 11 per cent of the prison population.
The 2022 statistics indicate that 74 per cent of sentence committals were for 12 months or less and that 38 per cent of the overall committals were people held in pre-trial detention. Despite a welcome aspiration in 2013 to reduce the prison population by a third, and a restatement of the commitment last year to reduce the prison population, the numbers are going in entirely the wrong direction. We would question whether it is absolutely necessary that everyone remanded into custody but not yet convicted of a crime, and those who are sentenced to 12 months or less, should be in prison at all. Reducing these two cohorts would help alleviate overcrowding in the system.
It is positive to see in the IPS 2022 Annual Report that they are continuing to engage with the Department of Justice on the Prisoner Complaint System and that a new Statutory Instrument is expected this year to bring about the changes needed to implement it. We hope this will be afforded priority given the lack of a robust or effective complaints system when overall conditions in prison continue to deteriorate.
We also welcome the improvements in terms of access to mental health services in prison, with more staff and shorter waiting times but the high number of referrals indicates the high prevalence of mental health issues amongst the prison population and the need for more focus. Again, we have stated commitments in the Report of the High-Level Taskforce on Mental Health and Addiction, but these must be costed and implemented as a matter of priority.
IPRT welcomes the enhanced conditions at the new Limerick Women’s Prison which was opened by the Minister for Justice yesterday. The standards at the facility should set the benchmark across the entire prison estate on how to accommodate people in prison while upholding their human rights and dignity. However, IPRT is uneasy about the renewed focus on prison expansion against established government policy and remains concerned by the further risks of overcrowding due to continued overreliance on imprisonment, particularly for short sentences.
Responding to the opening of the new Limerick Women Prison which took place yesterday, IPRT Executive Director Saoirse Brady said:
“The enhanced living standards at Limerick prison should afford women the rights and the dignity that they deserve. We should aspire to those standards across the prison estate. However, it’s a far cry from the inhumane conditions in prisons such as Mountjoy, as outlined in the Office of Inspector of Prisons Annual Report 2022 last week.
Whilst there is no available open prison for women, the progressive step of having apartments and communal areas for women in the new prison are welcome. IPRT has been calling for an open prison for women for many years, and while this facility is designed to help people re-integrate into the community and maintain family links, it is still a high security prison. New facilities for mothers and their babies at Limerick prison will help women bond with their baby, but the de facto position should be to explore every possible alternative before imprisoning a pregnant woman.
The IPS Annual Report 2022 released yesterday showed that the daily average number of women in custody is up 20 per cent on the 2021 average. It’s concerning to read that this facility is designed so that cells can be doubled up. Just because we have places to fill doesn’t mean we should fill them.
State investment is better spent upgrading poor quality facilities and on measures to keep people out of prison in the first place.”
Following on from the publication of the Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2022 published yesterday, today (19 October 2023) the Minister for Justice published The Probation Service Annual Report 2022.
In its pre-Budget submission, IPRT called for the allocation of an additional €5 million to the Probation Service to support greater use of Community Service Orders and Probation Supervision to reduce overcrowding by investing in alternative solutions.
Responding to the publication of the Probation Service Annual Report 2022, IPRT Executive Director Saoirse Brady said:
“The Probation Service reports that the use of Community Service Orders (CSOs) resulted in 174,287 hours of community service work in lieu of 566 years in prison resulting in €2m worth of work for benefit of communities nationwide. Not only did communities gain from the work done but there was a huge saving to the taxpayer by diverting people away from prison.
Unfortunately, the report flags a drop in the use of CSOs and highlights vast areas around the country where orders are not made. Again, we must stress that short sentences do not work, they do not prevent reoffending and very often have the opposite effect. We need to see increased use of community-based sanctions and greater consistency in orders made around the country. When deciding on a proportionate sentence, community-based sanctions should be the default rather than the exception for less serious offences.
We note that while the Service met most of its own performance targets, they did not meet key targets on Pre-Sanction Assessment Reports or assessment reports for the Parole Board. This raises the question as to whether the Probation Service requires more resources and capacity to meet increased demand.
The Probation Service also reports dealing with an increased number of women in 2022. While this could be viewed positively in terms of women being diverted away from prison, coupled with the increase in yesterday’s statistics from Irish Prison Service report, it would suggest that more women are in the criminal justice system overall.”
In response to the information detailed in the Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2022 and The Probation Service Annual Report 2022, Saoirse Brady. IPRT Executive Director said:
“It is encouraging to see both the Director General of the IPS and the Director of the Probation Service highlight the importance of the Review of Policy Options for Prison and Penal Reform 2022-24 and the Report of the High Level Taskforce Report on the mental health and addiction challenges of persons interacting with the criminal justice sector. Both of these important policy documents, if implemented, will have a significant impact on people in the criminal justice system and improve outcomes for individuals, their families and communities.
While we welcome the publication of three key reports for the criminal justice sector in less than a week, we feel that each is important in its own right. Publishing the reports in this way means that they are not getting the attention each deserves when they shine a light on important issues that for the most part take place behind locked doors. This is why we feel it is so important that in future, the Inspector of Places of Detention and the Director General of the Irish Prison Service are able to publish their own reports when the respective pieces of legislation are in place to establish each as an independent entity.”
For all media enquiries, or to arrange an interview with Saoirse Brady, IPRT Executive Director, please contact Michelle Byrne, IPRT Communications Officer on:
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
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.
As of 18 October 2023, there were 4,624 in prison custody.
Key Figures: Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2022: