Irish Penal Reform Trust

Prison remission review must prioritise positive role of early release in rehabilitation – IPRT

12th October 2021

Plans to review the operation of remission in the prison system must prioritise the important role that enhanced remission plays in incentivising rehabilitation and reducing offending on release, and steer clear of extending the loss of remission as a form of discipline. Furthermore, the review should be informed by evidence, sentencing data and equality monitoring data, and any proposed changes must include the introduction of safeguards such as an independent appeals system.

These calls are being made by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), responding to the announcement on Sunday (10th October 2021) by Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Ms Hildegarde Naughton TD, of a review of remission as part of an ongoing Penal Policy Review by the Department of Justice.

Responding to the announcement of the review, IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide commented:

“Improvements to consistency, transparency and fairness in the operation of all prison regimes are to be welcomed, including access to enhanced remission, early release and temporary release which are all shown to support reintegration and reduce reoffending. However, any proposals to further reduce access to remission for breaches of prison rules must be approached with extreme caution.

“Everyone should have access to a safe environment to live and work in. This applies equally to staff and to prisoners, and incidents of violence or abuse should be investigated fully, including by An Garda Síochána appropriate.

“However, measures that make prisons safer overall include access to humane conditions, healthcare, activities like education and work, single-cell accommodation, conflict mediation, de-escalation and restorative practices. Above all, access to a trusted prison complaints system reduces tensions on landings and violence. In 2016, the Government committed to wide reform of the internal prison complaints system. It is now 2021, and this commitment has not yet been met.”


Ireland’s standard rate of remission of 25% is low when compared to neighbouring countries. Enhanced remission is designed to act as an incentive to engage in rehabilitative services while in prison. The Government has previously expressed its emphasis on the rehabilitative role of prisons; this should include extending access to enhanced remission as part of this review.

While appropriate sanctions should be in place where there is misconduct in prisons, IPRT research has found that certain groups do not have equal access to enhanced remission and regimes, such as older prisoners and prisoners with disabilities. Ms. Ní Chinnéide continued:

“IPRT research on the experiences of people with disabilities, including mental illness, in prison found that some behaviours might be interpreted as challenging or a breach of prison regime, when in fact the prisoners did not understand a specific rule, or it was a coping mechanism to deal with a prison environment not adapted to their disability. Equality monitoring data must be collected, published and acted upon to make sure that no one is further punished for reasons of age, disability or being a member of a minority ethnic group.”


Therefore, IPRT recommends that the proposed review of remission must include:

  1. In-depth analysis of sentencing data, sentencing decisions, and outcomes on release.
  2. A detailed impact assessment of any changes on prison capacity and probation resources.
  3. Obligations on the Prison Service to ensure that all prisoners understand what is required of them under the Prison Rules and the implications of any breaches of Prison Rules, including prisoners with disabilities or for whom English is not their first language.
  4. Equality monitoring of prison regimes including enhanced remission, incentivised regimes, restricted regimes, prison discipline and access to other early release schemes.
  5. Safeguards to ensure decisions are made in an open and transparent manner, full reasons are given for each decision, and decisions are open to appeal.


The Irish Prison Service conducted a review of the use of enhanced remission in 2017, however, this review does not appear to have been published. IPRT looks forward to the publication of the Department of Justice Penal Policy Review, which is now due to be completed and published by the end of the year.

For all media enquiries, contact Pamela: +353 (0) 86 043 3060 or communications@iprt.ie


NOTE TO EDITORS

  • IPRT was responding to the announcement of a review of remission as part of an ongoing Penal Policy Review by Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Hildegarde Naughton TD. See Department of Justice website: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PR21000245 (Sunday 10th October)
  • The practice of remission is governed by Rule 59 of the Prison Rules 2007: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2007/si/252/made/en/print#article59
  • In 2013, the Oireachtas Sub-committee recommended increasing standard remission from one-quarter to one-third, as well as the introduction of an enhanced remission scheme of up to one-half for certain groups of prisoners https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/19618/1/Penal-Reform-Report-13-March-2013-Final.pdf (Recommendation 3)
  • The 2014 cross-agency Strategic Review of Penal Policy considered proposals to increase remission in some depth but did not achieve consensus. The final report recommended: “the greater use of structured temporary release. The Group recommends that there should be a consistent and transparent application of provisions, based on fair procedures, permitting offenders to earn remission of up to one third of the sentence imposed if such discretionary remission is to be retained.” (Recommendation 28)
  • The most recent data indicate 20% of all people in prison are held on a restricted regime, locked up in their cells for 19+ hours per day. Data provided by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD in March 2021 indicates that 32% of all people in prison custody were on the waiting list for psychology services.
  • 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

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.

Subscribe

Legal

Contact us

  • Tel: 01 874 1400
  • info@iprt.ie
  • More
viewed here