The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has called for the increased use of community-based alternatives to prison, and a reversal of plans to increase prison spaces.
The trust, which campaigns for rights and reforms in the penal system, was responding to this week’s publications of annual reports from the Irish Prison Service (IPS) and the Probation Service.
The trust cited figures from the IPS that showed a 12% increase in the number of people committed to prison in Ireland in 2022.
“We are particularly concerned that there has been an increase in the percentage of women committed, with women making up 11% of the prison population,” said Saoirse Brady (IPRT executive director).
The 2022 statistics indicated that 74% of sentence committals were for 12 months or less, and that 38% of the overall committals were people held in pre-trial detention.
“We would question whether it is absolutely necessary that everyone remanded into custody, but not yet convicted of a crime, and those who are sentenced to 12 months or less, should be in prison at all,” Brady stated.
The IPRT welcomed, however, the IPS’s engagement with the Department of Justice on changes to the prisoner-complaint system, and improvements in access to mental-health services in prison.
It also welcomed the improved conditions at the new Limerick Women’s Prison, which was opened by the Minister for Justice this week.
The IPRT highlighted the drop in community-service orders reported in the Probation Service’s annual report, adding that there were “vast areas around the country” where orders were not made.
"We need to see increased use of community-based sanctions and greater consistency in orders made around the country,” said Brady.
Referring to the service’s failure to meet targets on pre-sanction assessment reports or assessment reports for the Parole Board, she said that this raised the question of whether the organisation needed more resources and capacity to meet increased demand.