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Low-level offenders will avoid jail

01 Sep 2022 / justice Print

Justice plan means low-level offenders will avoid jail

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has welcomed the Review of Policy Options for Prison and Penal Reform 2022-2024 and associated action plan approved by Cabinet. 

The review recommends reducing the use of short custodial sentences (especially below three months) and wants more exploration of how the judiciary can be provided with a greater range of non-custodial sanctions.

Avoid overcrowding

Six priority actions have been identified to reduce reoffending, support desistance from offending, avoid jail overcrowding, and reduce reliance on custodial sentences.

These are:

  1. To consider the incorporation of prison as a sanction of last resort in statute, in relation to people who do not pose a risk of serious harm, to reduce reoffending and overcrowding in prisons,
  2. To develop and expand the range of community based sanctions including alternatives to prison,
  3. Moving on the implementation plan for those with mental health and addiction with better primary care support on release,
  4. To ensure that all criminal justice policy decisions are pre-assessed to determine their impact across the criminal justice sector,
  5. To establish a penal policy consultative council,
  6. To introduce judicial discretion to set minimum tariffs for life sentences and examine the effectiveness of use of mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes.

Saoirse Brady of the IPRT said the long-anticipated review is a comprehensive and ambitious roadmap to transform the entire penal system, welcoming its focus on community-based sanctions and alternatives to custody for low-level offenders.

“Not only will this save the taxpayer money, it will ensure that justice is delivered in a more appropriate and proportionate way while at the same time reducing levels of reoffending and supporting individuals to turn away from crime, ultimately to the benefit of society,” she said.

Prison 'contributes to reoffending'

“The stated aim of reducing the number of people sent to prison recognises the disruptive impact that short sentences in particular can have on individuals, as well as the ways in which prison can contribute to reoffending,” Brady added. 

Removing people sentenced for short periods from the prison population can help to improve the management of prison services, she stated.

IPRT has repeatedly advocated for a penal council, she added.

She warned that the plan’s commitment to modernising and updating the prison estate should not create “more prison spaces to fill”.

IPRT also supports a review of early release mechanisms and says it should include removing the statutory bar on temporary release for people convicted of certain drug and firearms offences.  

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