Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) after the publication of its third report on benchmarking reform in Ireland’s penal system has advised the government to reduce its numbers of prisons.
The executive director of the Trust, Fíona Ní Chinnéide, stated that a prison sentence is not usually the best sanction for people found guilty of an offence.
According to the Irish Times report, Ms Ní Chinnéide said: “Locking up more people for longer lengths of time, in crowded conditions . . . doesn’t achieve justice, repair harm, enhance community safety. It does the opposite,”
“The rising prison numbers impacts on the ability to provide safe and secure custody. It sees increasing numbers of people locked up for 19 or more hours a day. It sees higher incidences of violence across the prison system,” she added.
The Trust cautioned the rising prisoner population in Ireland could sabotage the progress of penal reform adopted by the nation.
In its report, it examined 35 different issues across the prison system, including the mental health state of the prisoners and the expertise of the staff.
Comparing their new analysis with previous reports, seven were recorded to have improved while six has worsened and 10 showed no improvement.
On the other hand, 10 showed changes in both negative and positive directions; therefore, the Trust classified its noticed improvement as “mixed”.
In addition to the revelation from its observation, the Trust noticed that the justice system has significantly deteriorated due to its over-reliance on prison sentences. This was considered as one of the main contributing factors to the state of the penal system.
Ireland has an imprisonment rate of approximately 82 prisoners per 100,000 people, lower than Scotland which has a rate of 150 per 100,000. The IPRT wants to see the State reduce the imprisonment rate to 50 per 100,000, according to the Irish Times.
According to the report, 70 per cent of people sent to prison last year received sentences for less than 12 months. Approximately 3,000 people served sentences of less than 12 months, while 2,500 served community service orders.