18th October 2023
Today (Wednesday 18 October 2023) politicians marked the ten-year anniversary of the publication of the Report on Penal Reform of 2013 by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality at an event in the AV room in Leinster House.
The event by the All-Party Oireachtas Group on Penal Reform, co-chaired by Labour Deputy Ivana Bacik and Fine Gael Deputy Alan Farrell, and supported by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) invited legislators to reflect on the implementation of the recommendations of the report as well as areas of progress or regress in the penal landscape.
Criminologists and internationally renowned experts on penal reform, Professor Mary Rogan (TCD) and Professor Ian O’Donnell (UCD), spoke at the meeting, highlighting some positive developments that have occurred in the 10 years since the report was first published, suggesting how legislators might close the gap between worthwhile proposals and enacting meaningful change.
Saoirse Brady, IPRT Executive Director said:
“Today’s briefing for legislators is timely given the publication of the Irish Prison Service annual report for 2022. 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. There has been established cross-party support for more than a decade to reform our prison system, yet overcrowding and poor conditions still prevail. It’s all very well having written policy in place, but it’s the implementation of policy that really matters. We need to see clear action and the political will to deliver meaningful change.
Co-chair of the Group Labour leader Deputy Ivana Bacik said:
“There has been a huge increase in people being sent to prison for periods of less than six months, which all experts agree is an ineffective method for rehabilitation and reform of prisoners.
“The official response to overcrowding has been to build capacity – this is a retrograde way of looking at our criminal justice system.
“All the expert evidence suggests that prison should be a sanction of last-resort, and that greater reliance should be placed on community-based sanctions to achieve more effective rehabilitation and reduce re-offending rates.”
Co-chair of the Group Deputy Alan Farrell of Fine Gael commented:
“Ensuring that we build a penal system that serves victims, society, and reduces repeat offending, is paramount.
“Today’s briefing in conjunction with the All Party Oireachtas Group on Penal Reform, showed how we can work together to achieve our common goals, reducing recidivism, reducing prison overcrowding, increased use of community service where appropriate; and more.”
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:
The 2013 report on penal reform makes 5 recommendations:
There were 4,306 people in prison custody in Ireland on 7 March 2013 when the Joint Committee report was released – ten years later, on 7 March 2023 there were 4,484 people in prison custody bringing the prison estate to 104% capacity. As of 17 October 2023, there are 4,618 in prison custody.
The All-Party Oireachtas Group on Penal Reform was established in 2021. The Group aims to provide an opportunity for members of all parties, across the Dáil and Seanad, to discuss penal reform issues, engage directly with leading experts in the field and work together to create positive and lasting reform of the Irish penal system. It particularly hopes to draw upon the penal reform recommendations made by previous Justice Committees in 2013 and 2018, and build consensus for implementing their recommendations.
The Group is co-chaired by Deputy Ivana Bacik and Deputy Alan Farrell. The Irish Penal Reform Trust provides secretariat support for the Group, as well as expert advice.
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.
Saoirse Brady joined IPRT as Executive Director in May 2022. Prior to joining IPRT, she most recently worked as Head of Legal, Policy and Public Affairs at the Children’s Rights Alliance, a role she held since 2016. She previously worked with the Alliance as Research and Projects Manager and with a number of leading rights organisations, including the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC), Front Line Defenders and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. She has also acted as an independent consultant for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and CORU – the Health and Social Care Regulator.
Professor Ian O Donnell
Ian O'Donnell is Professor of Criminology at University College Dublin. Previously he was Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, Research Officer at the Oxford University Centre for Criminological Research, and Research Assistant at the University of London. During his time in England he served as a member of the Board of Visitors for HMP Pentonville and as a Magistrate on the Oxford bench. His latest book, "Prison Life: Pain, Resistance, and Purpose", published by New York University Press, won the 2023 Outstanding Book Award given by the American Society of Criminology’s Division of International Criminology.
At the event, Ian highlighted some positive developments that have occurred in the 10 years since publication of 2013 report including the reduction in the use of imprisonment for non-payment of fines. Read his full presentation here.
Professor Mary Rogan
Mary Rogan is an Associate Professor at the School of Law, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland and a Fellow of Trinity College. She is the Principal Investigator of two projects funded by the European Research Council examining prison oversight. Her latest book is a co-edited collection on pre-trial detention in Europe, published by Routledge. Mary is qualified as a barrister and is a member of Lincoln’s Inn, London. Mary was the first woman to be President of the International Penal and Penitentiary Foundation and is currently its Secretary General. She is a former Chairperson of the Irish Penal Reform Trust.
At the event, Mary spoke about the need for the development of a Consultative Council to support policymaking and highlighted the lack of implementation of OPCAT. Read her full presentation here.