Penal reform group concerned over ‘law and order’ rhetoric

Penal reform group concerned over 'law and order' rhetoric

Saoirse Brady

Penal reform campaigners have urged the new Taoiseach to tackle “the root causes of offending” instead of focusing on “harsher penalties and prison expansion”.

In a letter to Simon Harris, the head of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) said it has concerns about current “political rhetoric… and the doubling down of the ‘law and order’ agenda”.

Executive director Saoirse Brady wrote: “An additional 600+ prison spaces will be years in the making and will do nothing to alleviate the current overcrowding crisis. Furthermore, increasing capacity in prison sends entirely the wrong message — it signals an acceptance on the part of our leaders that more crime is inevitable when in fact it is not.”

She continued: “Our prisons currently represent a microcosm of issues that the whole of society is facing amid a cost-of-living crisis, but at a heightened level of intensity — people experiencing homelessness, poverty and deprivation, mental health challenges, addiction and substance misuse or any combination of these.

“We must start by investing in people to give them the best life chances possible and tackle the challenges faced by so many in our society in a meaningful and productive way.”

The full letter makes a number of policy recommendations, including the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT), the speedy establishment of a Penal Consultative Council and an expansion of the spent convictions regime.

It concludes: “As IPRT celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, we will mark the occasion in the autumn, and we hope that you will be in a position to join us in reflecting on the important work that we have done over the last three decades to improve the lives of people deprived of their liberty. We will be in touch in due course with details about upcoming events.

“In the meantime, I want to wish you the very best in your premiership and assure you that we are available at any stage to discuss how IPRT can support you to deliver on a progressive penal reform agenda to ensure a safer society for all.”

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