Foreign nationals and ethnic minorities receiving longer prison sentences in Ireland
Foreign nationals and people from ethnic minority backgrounds are receiving longer prison sentences for drug offences and sexual offences than white Irish people, new research suggests.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) today launched a new report on the rights, needs and experiences of foreign national and minority ethnic groups in the Irish penal system, produced by a team of researchers from Maynooth University School of Law and Criminology, led by Dr David M. Doyle.
Data analysis suggests that both foreign nationals and Travellers are over-represented in Irish prisons, comprising just 12 per cent and 0.7 per cent of the total population respectively but almost 17 per cent and eight per cent of committals to prison over a 12 month pre-Covid period.
Although they represent just 1.2 per cent of the population, members of the black community made up over two per cent of committals to prison in the same period.
Travellers also made up around 8.9 per cent of those engaged with the Probation Service.
An analysis of prisoner data shows that Irish nationals in prison had an average of 6.2 previous custodial sentences, while foreign nationals had just 2.5. Foreign nationals also received statistically significantly longer sentences for drug offences (8.9 months longer) and sexual offences (15.9 months longer) than Irish people.
People with an ethnicity other than white also received statistically significantly longer sentences for drug offences (14.34 months longer) and sexual offences (32 months longer) than white people.
The IPRT report, funded by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), makes 18 recommendations on how to address inequalities in the penal system.
Molly Joyce, acting executive director of IPRT, said: “While the vast majority of foreign national and minority ethnic individuals do not come into contact with the penal system, our research indicates that these groups are disproportionately represented both in prison and on probation in Ireland.
“As well as an over-representation, the research identifies – in respect of certain offences – significant differences in average sentencing outcomes for foreign nationals and people of an ethnicity other than White. While this could indicate potential bias in the criminal justice system, the lack of comprehensive data collection by State agencies means we cannot be sure, nor can we more thoroughly examine these apparent disparities. This is yet another example where deficient data leads to a fundamental lack of understanding of the situation, which in turn inevitably leads to deficient responses.
“This research is the first of its kind in Ireland. While it bridges a gap in our understanding of the experiences of these groups and provides a direction for initial reforms, it represents only a starting point. Further in-depth research is needed to understand the complexity of the experiences of foreign national and minority ethnic groups within the criminal justice system.”
On publication of the report, IPRT is making four central calls for reform:
- Significant improvement in data recording and ethnic equality monitoring across all penal data collection systems.
- Updating of the Irish Prison Rules to include the human rights protections that are specific to foreign national, migrant and minority ethnic prisoners, as set out in international and European penal law. These revised rules should – at a minimum – be effectively communicated to all prisoners in a language that they can understand.
- A reformed complaints system that includes a facility for complaints from prisoners to be made in a range of languages and mediums that reflect the linguistic diversity and literacy levels of the prison population.
- Further steps to be taken for the Irish Prison Service to meet its obligation to eliminate discrimination under the public sector equality and human rights duty.