2nd October 2023
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has published their pre-Budget submission which aims to help alleviate overcrowding and improve undignified conditions ahead of Budget 2024.
Key budget asks include funding solutions that would reduce overcrowding, support families of people in prison, reintegrate women who have been in prison custody back into their communities, address healthcare needs across the areas of mental health and addiction and encourage education in prison to reduce recidivism.
Commenting on the submission, IPRT Executive Director Saoirse Brady said;
“IPRT is concerned that the increasing prison population – and the current state response, namely to increase prison spaces – contravenes clear commitments in the Government’s own Review of Policy Options for Prison and Penal Reform 2022-2024 to reduce the number of people serving short custodial sentences of 12 months or less. While we understand the need to provide capital infrastructure investment to update and improve the prison estate, Budget 2024 provides a timely opportunity to invest in practical measures that will help to alleviate the current situation of chronic prison overcrowding. It also provides an opportunity to invest in key supports to improve the lives of people currently in prison, those leaving prison as well as their families and children.”
IPRT Executive Director Saoirse Brady goes on to say;
“We have an opportunity in front of us to resource solutions to the undignified conditions we’re hearing about. To this end, IPRT published our Pre-Budget Submission for Budget 2024. In order to reduce overcrowding, we’re calling on the Government to invest in alternative solutions including the allocation of an additional €5 million to the Probation Service to support greater use of Community Service Orders and Probation Supervision.
While the Irish Prison Service has an obligation to accept all people sent to it by the courts, imprisonment should only ever be used as a sanction of last resort. Unfortunately, there continues to be an over-reliance on short custodial sentences for people convicted of less serious offences, despite its damaging social and economic impact on individuals, families, and communities.
IPRT also calls on the Minister for Justice to make immediate efforts to adequately resource the proposed progressive actions the Government outlined in August 2022 to ultimately reduce the number of people sent to prison and support a move away from responses to offending that cause unnecessary further harm to people and their families.“
In Budget 2024, IPRT is calling on the Government to provide an additional €5 million to the Probation Service to support greater use of Community Service Orders and Probation Supervision. The funding would help the Service develop its capacity to provide administrative post-custody supervision so it can facilitate all forms of post-release supervision requirements. This could allow for increased capacity in Community-Based-Organisations to develop and deliver an increase in the provision of Community Service Orders.
The submission indicates that an allocation of €2 million in funding to the Irish Prison Service (IPS) could facilitate improved family contact between people in prison and their families and children. Measures to counter recidivism and support the community reintegration of women leaving the criminal justice system, particularly those assessed to be low-risk to society were costed at €300,000.
IPRT also calls for the allocation of €1 million to the Irish Prison Service for the provision of additional Addiction Counselling Services and Psychological Services and for the allocation of €365,000 for the introduction of a prison education allowance to comply with the Revised European Prison Rules.
In addition to these key costed asks, IPRT asks the Minister for Justice and Minister for Finance to consider providing dedicated funding to support and provide restorative justice at all stages of the criminal justice system on a nationwide basis; including the funding of new referral pathways to ensure the accessibility of restorative justice services to address the gaps in services provision that currently exist.
Another significant area for investment in 2024 will be in terms of the soon-to-be-established Inspectorate of Places of Detention. The Inspectorate, as well as the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission as the proposed coordinating body for all National Preventative Mechanisms established in the State, will require increased and adequate resources to fulfil their respective roles in ensuring compliance with the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) which IPRT hope to see ratified in 2024.
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