14th December 2022
IPRT welcomes two important Oireachtas Justice Committee reports on Minorities and Drug Use.
The Oireachtas Committee on Justice launched two reports yesterday – ‘Minorities Engaging with the Justice System’ and a report on ‘The approach to sanctions for possession of certain amounts of drugs for personal use’.
While welcoming both reports, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) highlights that the Committee’s Minorities Engaging with the Justice System report could have included specific recommendations that focus on people in prison.
IPRT’s Executive Director, Saoirse Brady, comments on the launch:
“IPRT welcomes the Committee’s report on Minorities Engaging with the Justice System. It echoes our recognition of the importance of training for those within the justice sector on appropriate engagement with minority groups, which IPRT has highlighted in our own research. However, the Committee’s report only extends this to lawyers, Gardaí and judges - prison management and staff should have also been included within this recommendation.
Translation and interpretation services are recommended in court settings in the Committee’s report and this is clearly much needed. Our research, launched earlier this year, also recommended that services be extended across the prison estate, including ensuring interpreters are used to inform prisoners of their rights upon entry to prison.
We welcome the report’s consideration of the lack of available psychiatric services in prisons. However, since the Committee held its hearings into this important issue, new research by IPRT, published in October of this year, has shown that the current operation of forensic mental health services in Ireland do not comply with the human rights standards set out in the UN Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCPRD). With this new information, we would ask the Committee to revisit and potentially reword this recommendation to reflect working towards better community services and a system based on the full consent of an individual when engaging with any type of mental health treatment with the ultimate long-term view of f abolishing the forensic mental health system as we know it.
Overall, we stress that the collection and use of data must be improved to ensure that a complete dataset is publicly available for analysis so that there is an effective response to the ethnic, cultural and religious needs across the Irish penal system.”
IPRT’s report, named "Sometimes I'm missing the words": The rights, needs and experiences of foreign national and minority ethnic groups in the Irish penal system, found that migrant, foreign national and minority ethnic groups in the penal system in Ireland experience significant challenges across the system, including isolation, discrimination, racism, barriers to communication, as well as other cultural barriers.
IPRT’s report also found that the Irish Prison Service data was deficient in the areas of ethnicity and religion of the prison population and that non-Irish nationals may receive longer sentences than Irish nationals for controlled drug offences and sexual offences.
Speaking to the Oireachtas Justice Committee report on ‘The approach to sanctions for possession of certain amounts of drugs for personal use’, Ms. Brady says:
“IPRT also welcomes the report on ‘The approach to sanctions for possession of certain amounts of drugs for personal use’ launched this week. It further supports recommendations from the High Level Task Force that considered the mental health and addiction challenges of those who come into contact with the criminal justice sector. In particular, the Taskforce considered expanding the Adult Caution Scheme to cover simple possession of certain drugs to prevent a ‘person in crisis’ from entering the criminal justice system and instead being able to access necessary health services instead. It also looked at a welcome health-based approach to both mental health and addiction rather than a punitive approach.
We are pleased to see that spent convictions are a core part of the recommendations. Effective legislation – that allows for convictions to be expunged from a person’s record once certain conditions are met – has a major role to play in removing barriers to the reintegration of people with a conviction history who have demonstrated that they have moved on from past offending behaviour. Securing employment or training, and the ability to rebuild a life after committing an offence, is crucial to breaking the cycle of offending.”
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NOTES FOR EDITORS
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (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. See www.iprt.ie.