- “I am determined that serious offenders and serial offenders must continue to be imprisoned.”
- “While prisons must remain part of the answer, prison must not be the only answer.”
- “Research proves supervised community sanctions can help in reducing reoffending, thereby reducing crime.”
Minister outlines series of actions in response to recommendations.
Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice and Equality, has today published the Final Report of the Working Group established to conduct a Strategic Review of Penal Policy.
Minister Fitzgerald welcomed the key finding of the Review that “the overarching purpose of criminal and penal policy should be to make Ireland a safer and fairer place” and “that any penal system which does not aspire to a reduction in offending behaviour as a key goal is failing in its purpose.”
Responding to the Review Minister Fitzgerald outlined her vision for penal policy, stating:“I am determined that serious offenders and serial offenders must continue to be imprisoned. Society expects and demands nothing less.”
“But while prisons must remain part of the answer, prison must not be the only answer.”
“Prison is not the only solution when it comes to those convicted of lesser, non violent offences. Research proves supervised community sanctions can help in reducing reoffending, thereby reducing crime.”
The Minister noted Recidivism Studies by Central Statistics Office (CSO) which have shown that offenders who received either a Probation Order or a Community Service Order in 2007 and 2008 had a re-offending rate nearly 50% lower than those who had received a custodial sentence (41% vs 62%).
Minister Fitzgerald welcomed the ongoing roll out of the Community Return Programme. This is a scheme where carefully selected prisoners can be granted reviewable temporary release coupled with a requirement to do community service work such as painting, gardening or graffiti removal in a supervised group setting. A prisoner who does not comply with the conditions of his or her release is returned to prison to serve the remainder of his or her sentence and is not eligible to be considered again for participation in the scheme. The Minister said this scheme represents a move away from releasing prisoners in an unstructured way. The Minister noted that there have, to date, been 1,045 participants on the scheme with 116 offenders currently engaged in community service work.
The Penal Policy Review was established in September 2012 in line with the recommendations of the Thornton Hall Project Review Group. The Group was tasked with carrying out a strategic review of penal policy taking into account the relevant work already carried out in this jurisdiction and elsewhere, the rights of those convicted of crimes, the perspective of those who are victims of crime, and the interests of society in general.
Thanking the Group for its comprehensive report the Minister said “I very much welcome this report and wish to acknowledge the hard work and commitment of the Chairman, Mr. Michael Whelan and the members of the Group to what has been a very significant project. The recommendations detailed in this Report will, in the future, make a positive contribution to a more progressive penal policy in Ireland..
A key recommendation of the Review Group is that imprisonment should be regarded as a sanction of last resort. Nonetheless the Review Group state “in line with the principle of proportionality, there are offences for which imprisonment may be the only appropriate sentence”;
However the Review Group goes on to identify “rehabilitation and reintegration as a core principle and significant factor in reducing crime and considers that such aims are best achieved in a non-custodial environment as far as possible.”
The Penal Policy Review contains 43 recommendations (key recommendations listed further below). At today’s launch Minister Fitzgerald outlined a series of actions in response to the recommendations
· The Minister intends to proceed with the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill which will strengthen the legislative framework for supervised community sanctions.
· The Minister has asked her officials to prepare proposals and options for Government on reform of sentencing policy, including mandatory minimum sentences. The Minister pointed out that it was her preference to maintain the minimum mandatory life sentence for murder.
· In addition, the Minister has asked her officials to prepare proposals for Government on legislating for the review’s recommendation relating to Courts being required to set out in writing their reasons for imposing a custodial sentence.
· The Minister announced her intention not to increase automatic remission above 25% (as proposed by the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Penal Reform); and that she has asked her Department to prepare more detailed proposals or options on the increased use of earned remission.
· The Irish Prison Service has established a sub-group to examine possible location of a new open centre for women prisoners. Once the subgroup has reported, the Minster intends to ask the Prison Service to bring forward further feasibility proposal.
· The Minister reiterated her commitment to have the EU Directive on Victims rights implemented in Ireland in 2015.
· The Minister intends to bring forward legislative proposals to Government to place the Parole Board on a statutory basis in the near future
· The Minister also intends to explore the issue of victim representation on the Parole Board.
· The Minister will examine the proposal to extend the diversion approach to 18-21 years olds.
· The Irish Prison Service is working to provide in-cell sanitation in all cells and radically improve prison conditions in the older parts of the prison estate.
· Plans are being progressed for the construction of a new wing in Limerick Prison and refurbishment works in Portlaoise Prison.
· The Minister intends to bring forward proposals on the establishment of a Community Court in Dublin city on a pilot basis.
· The Minister indicated that a review of alcohol and drugs services for offenders be undertaken as soon as possible.
Minister Fitzgerald concluded “I am confident this report will make a difference which will shape the strategic development of penal policy in Ireland for years to come. The work undertaken by the Review Group is much appreciated and I am very grateful to them.”
The report is available on the Department’s website at:
Note for Editors
1. Membership of the Review Group:
Mr Michael Whelan (Chairman)
Mr Tom Cooney, Adviser to Minister for Justice and Equality
Mr Michael Donnellan, Director General, Irish Prison Service
Mr Vivian Geiran, Director, Probation Service
Mr Liam Herrick, Executive Director, Irish Penal Reform Trust
Ms Maeve Lewis, Executive Director, One in Four
Mr James Martin, Assistant Secretary, Department of Justice and Equality
Ms Sunniva McDonagh, Barrister at Law
Ms Oonagh McPhillips, Principal Officer, Department of Justice and Equality
Mr Jack Nolan, Assistant Commissioner, An Garda Síochána
Dr Helen O’Neill, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist
The Hon. Mr. Justice Garrett Sheehan
2. Terms of reference for the review:
The Report of the Thornton Hall Project Review Group published in July 2011 recommended that an all encompassing strategic review of penal policy should be carried out which will incorporate an examination and analysis of all aspects of penal policy including prevention, sentencing policies, alternatives to custody, accommodation and regimes, support for reintegration and rehabilitation and the issue of female prisoners.
Having regard to that recommendation, the Group shall carry out a strategic review of penal policy taking into account:
· relevant work already carried out in this jurisdiction and elsewhere,
· the rights of those convicted of crimes,
· the perspective of those who are victims of crime, and
· the interests of society in general; and
shall make recommendations as how a principled and sustainable penal system might be further enhanced taking into account resource implications, Constitutional imperatives and our international obligations.
In the context of that review, the Group shall include in particular an examination and analysis of:
i. the role of penal policy in crime prevention;
ii. sentencing policies;
iii. alternatives to custody;
iv. custodial accommodation and regimes;
v. reintegration and rehabilitation;
vi. any special issues relating to female offenders and prisoners.
3. Selected key recommendations:
· The Review Group recommends the adoption of a strategy to reduce prisoner numbers to a safe level subject to the need to ensure proper protection of the public.
· The Group recommends that imprisonment be regarded as a sanction of last resort and that this principle be incorporated in statute. The Group further recommends that non-custodial sanctions should become the default position in dealing with less serious offenders.
· The Review Group recommends that, in all cases where a custodial sentence is imposed by a court, the court should set out its reasons in writing for so doing. The Group further recommends that this requirement be incorporated in statute.
· The Review Group recommends that the Probation Service examine the feasibility of introducing, on a pilot basis, an integrated community service where community service would be imposed with conditions, such as a mandatory restriction on movement order or addiction treatment, where appropriate.
· The Review Group recommends the introduction, on a statutory basis, of a provision for community service in lieu of part of a sentence of imprisonment in excess of one year.
· The Group recommends… permitting offenders to earn remission of up to one third of the sentence imposed if such discretionary remission is to be retained.
· The Review Group recommends the continuation and the expansion of the Community Return Programme and Community Support Scheme.
· The Review Group recommends the increased use of open prisons….and… recommends that, subject to funding, an additional open prison be considered for the Dublin area.
· The Review Group recommends that all offenders must have the opportunity to avail of any necessary services or programmes to aid their rehabilitation and reintegration….and… the Review Group recommends an increased focus on the provision of suitable accommodation, including step down facilities to ease the reintegration of offenders.
· The Review Group considered whether the Youth Diversion Programme should be extended to those over 18 years old and concluded that it would require a reconsideration of the manner in which the programme is currently provided.
· The Review Group endorses the conclusions of the Oireachtas Justice Committee hearings into community courts and, in particular, would support the establishment, initially on a pilot basis, of such a court for the Dublin City Centre area.
· The Review Group….looks forward to the full implementation of the EU Directive establishing minimum standards on the rights, supports and protection of victims of crime