Irish Penal Reform Trust

Interagency Group for a Fairer and Safer Ireland Annual Report 2020

23rd December 2021

The aim of Interagency Group for a Fairer and Safer Ireland is to enhance interdepartmental and interagency coordination in the rehabilitation of prisoners and the prevention of crime as recommended by the Strategic Review of Penal Policy (2014). The Interagency Group focuses on analysing the nature of the problems faced by people when released from custody and how better interagency cooperation could assist in their reintegration into the community.

In the Annual Report for 2020, the Group notes a worrying trend of more annual committals than releases before the pandemic. It expresses concern that if committals to prison return to normal levels, there may be a return of overcrowding and the possibility of prisoners being released at short notice without the agreed protocols being followed.

Reoffending and Recidivism

The Group reviewed the latest data on reoffending and recidivism that was published in August 2020 by the CSO. In 2014, 55% of people released from prison reoffended within three years of their release. Re-offending rates are falling over time whether one looks at three- or one-year windows for re-offending following release from custody. In contrast to this, probation reoffending has remained more static, with 47.2% of those on probation in 2014 going on to reoffend within three years.

In presentations to the Interagency Group, CSO representatives drew attention to the limitations of their reports on recidivism. The absence of a shared identification system in the criminal justice system makes it time-consuming and resource-intensive to track individuals from the Pulse system used by An Garda Síochána, through the Courts Service and on conviction, to the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service. The Annual Report notes that other information which would be useful in predicting the risk of recidivism before or at the time of incarceration include; age at first offence, prior arrests, family status, health status and education level. The addition of these variables could be used to enrich the existing prison and probation datasets, and would also draw attention to the cross-government nature of the responses needed to reduce recidivism and crime.


The Group commended the response of the Irish Prison Service (IPS) to the pandemic, including the supply of PPE and the use of temporary release to reduce the prison population.

Medical Cards

In its 2019 report, the Group noted that a pilot scheme that began in Cork Prison to encourage the prison population to apply for a medical card and was extended to all prisons in 2019. The IPS encouraged the prison population to engage with the programme in 2020, especially in the context of the pandemic, and 729 medical card applications were granted in 2020 – this is a significant increase on 412 in 2019.

Income Support / Training and Development

The Group referred to the withdrawal of Community Welfare Officers (CWOs) from larger prisons in 2019. CWOs play an important role in providing offenders with temporary income on release and linking them with the job seeker support services of the DEASP.

Now, people on release from prison often do not attend the nearest INTREO centre to collect their social welfare payment. However, arrangements between INTREO offices that allow them to collect their payment at the office nearest their release location and the one in their home area are working.


Early on in the pandemic, the IPS liaised with the Department of Housing through daily reports of the number of people that declared a risk of homelessness upon release from prison. Accommodation for prisoners on remand when they are released by the court was an issue brought to the attention of the Group. The IPS do not currently have this data and therefore are unable to alert the relevant local authority of a risk of homelessness.

Mental Health

As in previous years, mental health continued as an area of concern for the Group. The Report notes that the new Central Mental Hospital will not provide much relief for the demand for mental health services. The IPS, in collaboration with IASIO, have created a new dedicated role for a Training & Employment Officer to work full-time in the new CMH. The Group positively reported on a new cross-departmental/cross-agency Taskforce which looks at how best to provide for those in prison with mental health and addiction issues.

‘An Evidence Review of Recidivism and Policy Responses’

The Group welcomed the publication of ‘An Evidence Review of Recidivism and Policy Responses’, authored by Prof. Ian O’Donnell (UCD), commissioned by the Department of Justice. The Group invited Professor O’Donnell to present his report. (See IPRT comment on the launch of the report here.) Important points raised in the report include:

  • Most people are only in custody for a very brief time. It can push them into homelessness, put children in to care, it is disruptive and those imprisoned do not get time to engage with services.
  • Sentencing options in the District Court need to be reviewed if we are to tackle the problem of damaging short sentences. A review of these options and the alternatives available would help shed light on why certain options are availed of more often than others.
  • We can often see the effects of static risk factors on people’s lives (age of first conviction for example) but we cannot change them. Softening of the laws around spent convictions could really help with one dynamic risk factor –removing the badge of criminality that follows you post-incarceration. There is scope for reviewing that legislation.
  • There is a need to boost funding for multi-annual research projects. A research project on sentencing decisions would be useful for understanding not just why some sentences are given but the long-term consequences.
  • If there are lots of people in prison then there are problems in the community causing this. Making those links in your research and policymaking is important. If the research can highlight problems that can be responded to, then that will help with responsive, evidence-based policy.

Research Proposals

Based on advice from the CSO and taking into account other issues considered by the Interagency Group, the Interagency Group proposed the following three research proposals, for inclusion in futures calls for research proposals or for funding separatelyRecidivism and Reintegration: recidivism and reintegration; crime prevention and reduction programmes; and longitudinal study of offenders.

The Group considered that it would be important that what is learnt from the studies proposed above is shared with those agencies with responsibilities for the integration of offenders and for crime reduction. One way to achieve this learning is to involve representatives of those agencies with responsibilities in a research group/s to oversee the research undertaken and to engage with the researchers as their findings emerge.

Read the Interagency Group for a Fairer and Safer Ireland Annual Report 2020 here.

Read the previous reports of the Interagency Group on the Department of Justice website here.

December 2021

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