12th August 2021
The Mid-Year Progress Report on Justice Plan 2021 was published in August by Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys. The plan details the progress made so far to achieve 5 goals - or 240 actions - identified in the Justice Action Plan 2021 published earlier this year. The five goals are as follows;
Tackle crime, enhance national security and transform policing.
Improve access to justice and modernise the courts system.
Strengthen community safety, reduce reoffending, support victims and combat domestic, sexual and gender based violence.
Deliver a fair immigration system for a digital age.
Accelerate innovation, digital transformation and climate action across the justice sector.
Much of IPRT’s work is addressed in this Report, the key areas of which are examined below.
Goal 3 includes a commitment to “[c]omplete the evaluation of the Youth Joint Agency Response to Crime (JARC) initiative,” and to “[i]dentify areas in which to expand the JARC to target prolific and repeat offenders.” JARC operates on the philosophy of crime prevention, by “address[ing] the factors behind their offending.” This complements IPRT’s statement in Progress in the Penal System 2020 (PIPS 2020) that “the right interventions at the right points in time can lead to a reduction in offending rates among young adults.” While the evaluation of the initiative is ongoing, the identification of areas in which to expand JARC is complete.
Under Goal 3, the Minister sets out actions to establish a statutory parole board, which emphasises transparency and accountability through independent decision-making. The appointment of certain members of the Board was ongoing at the time of drafting the progress report, with the appointment of members announced in early August. (See IPRT’s response here.) The establishment of a parole system that is fair, transparent and removed from political control has been a long-running IPRT campaign.
In order to curb reoffending, the Minister sets out a range of actions, most notably to “[c]ommence a policy review to consider custodial sentences of less than 12 months,” and to “[e]stablish the Taskforce on mental health and addiction challenges of people interacting with the Criminal Justice System and complete Health Needs Assessment for prisoners.” These actions have been classed as ‘achieved’ in the progress report.
Another action specifies “[w]ork[ing] with industry experts to ensure employment focused training and up-skilling measures... are responsive and aligned to the identified skills gaps within the labour market.” This has been marked as ‘ongoing’ in the report.
A further action in this area is to “[p]ublish proposals to extend the range of the spent convictions legislation to widen the cohort who can benefit from greater employment opportunities.” This has been classed as ‘not achieved’ in the report, but expected for publication in the third quarter. Spent convictions legislation is one of IPRT’s campaigns.
The classification of the first two actions as ‘achieved’ in the progress report is to be welcomed. However, publication of any reports or other outputs relating to these actions within a reasonable timeframe is also needed. IPRT eagerly awaits further updates in these areas.
Two actions under Goal 3 encourage restorative justice. The first relevant action simply states “[m]ap the current state of play of restorative justice,” which has been marked as ‘achieved’. The second is more tangible, and involves activating “a restorative justice website,” which is found here.
An action to attain “[a]pproval of the General Scheme of a Bill to ratify and implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT)” under Goal 3 has significantly not been achieved, with a statement that work on it is “likely” to be done by the end of the third quarter. The approval of the General Scheme was due for completion in Q1 2021, with the Programme for Government previously committing to the ratification and implementation of OPCAT “within 18 months of the formation of the Government” i.e. end 2021. Ratification of OPCAT is one of the IPRT’s main campaigns.
Criminal Justice System
Two actions to foster better communication and empathy towards those in the criminal justice system were outlined under Goal 3. The first involved finalising “the Criminal Justice Sectoral Strategy and agree an action plan,” which has not been achieved, but a strategy paper is due by the end of the third quarter. The second, to “[r]eview implementation of the Action Plan on Offender Management through engagement with relevant agencies via a subgroup of Offender Management Governance and Strategy Group,” has been marked as ‘achieved’.
Read the full report here.