Prison population up since 2013 report called for one-third reduction

Prison population up since 2013 report called for one-third reduction

Saoirse Brady

Ireland’s prison population is higher now than it was when a landmark report called for it to be reduced by a third within a decade, penal rights campaigners have highlighted.

The all-party Oireachtas group on penal reform yesterday marked the 10-year anniversary of the penal reform report published by the joint committee on justice, defence and equality in 2013.

The group, co-chaired by Labour’s Ivana Bacik and Fine Gael’s Alan Farrell, and supported by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), heard evidence from penal reform experts Professor Mary Rogan of Trinity College Dublin and Professor Ian O’Donnell of University College Dublin.

Saoirse Brady, IPRT executive director, said: “Today’s briefing for legislators is timely given the publication of the Irish Prison Service annual report for 2022.

“Despite a welcome aspiration in 2013 to reduce the prison population by a third, and a restatement of the commitment last year to reduce the prison population, the numbers are going in entirely the wrong direction.

“There has been established cross-party support for more than a decade to reform our prison system, yet overcrowding and poor conditions still prevail. It’s all very well having written policy in place, but it’s the implementation of policy that really matters.

“We need to see clear action and the political will to deliver meaningful change.”

Ms Bacik said: “There has been a huge increase in people being sent to prison for periods of less than six months, which all experts agree is an ineffective method for rehabilitation and reform of prisoners.

“The official response to overcrowding has been to build capacity — this is a retrograde way of looking at our criminal justice system.

“All the expert evidence suggests that prison should be a sanction of last-resort, and that greater reliance should be placed on community-based sanctions to achieve more effective rehabilitation and reduce re-offending rates.”

Mr Farrell said: “Ensuring that we build a penal system that serves victims, society, and reduces repeat offending, is paramount.

“Today’s briefing in conjunction with the All Party Oireachtas Group on Penal Reform, showed how we can work together to achieve our common goals, reducing recidivism, reducing prison overcrowding, increased use of community service where appropriate; and more.”

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