Author Archive

Governor of Dóchas Centre resigns

April 26, 2010 1 comment

The Governor of the Dóchas centre, the main female prison in the state has resigned because of the “serious undermining” of her position and an “overall lack of respect by senior personnel in the Irish Prison Service”.

The first hand evidence given by Ms McMahon of the degree of overcrowding and its effects on rehabilitative regimes and simple day-to-day living gives an insight into the reality of what we have known for some time. Overcrowding is becoming chronic in the Irish prison system and that this is leading to increased tensions, diminished services and fewer opportunities to facilitate those imprisoned to change their lives. As the former Governor notes, what had been a flagship, progressive regime will be replaced by one in which tensions, self-harm and bullying would reappear, and in which health, educational and training facilities would become overloaded.

While this is extremely worrying, particularly as there appears to be no concerted strategy to deal with the issue of growing prison numbers in the short, medium and indeed long term, there is a concern arising out of Ms McMahon’s description of life in Dóchas which is a new one and perhaps even more significant and disquieting.

Ms McMahon states that the relationship between those in charge of the day to day regime within the Dóchas Centre and officials from the Irish Prison Service had deteriorated because of unannounced visits and lack of consultation in operational decisions, such as that to place bunk beds in rooms designed for one prisoner. Read more…

Categories: Penal Policy Tags: , ,

Progress on ending imprisonment for fine-defaulting

March 18, 2010 Leave a comment

The Fines Bill has been passed by the Dáil and is now before the Seanad. I wrote about the provisions of the Bill here.

As this piece in the Irish Times argues, it is to be hoped that the judiciary implement the finalised Act in full. District Court sentencing is something about which we know rather little, but the proliferation of short sentence prisoners in Irish jails tends to suggest that minor offences do attract custodial sentences on a not-infrequent basis. Those interested in penal reform in Ireland will hope that this signal from the Oireachtas will lead to a reassessment amongst District Court judges of their sentencing practice and prompt further legislative activity to promote genuine alternatives to custody.

One entirely unnecessary stick to beat the prison system with is about to be removed. There remains more to be done. Ireland gives out some of the highest numbers of short sentences in Europe. Dealing with this category of prisoners within the community makes obvious financial and social sense. Ending imprisonment for fine default is a small step in the right direction.

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Why more prisons won’t work: a change of heart in the UK

January 19, 2010 Leave a comment

An excellent article in the Guardian by Juliet Lyons of the Prison Reform Trust in the UK reflects on the important new report from the House of Commons Select Committee on Justice entitled Cutting Crime: the case for Justice Re-investment.

That report makes sensible, yet brave, recommendations for the future of UK penal policy. In short, it tells us that expanding the prison system will not provide solutions to criminal activity. In fact, more prison building is costly and counter productive and the huge resources invested in prisons should be redirected to prevention and community-based work with offenders. The Irish Penal Reform Trust has been making similar recommendations in the Irish context.

 As the report notes:   

We believe the Government faces a choice of risks: either to muddle through with the current plans hoping that commitments made under the ‘predict and provide’ model of penal policy will prove affordable (and not merely a self-fulfilling prophecy); or to make more radical decisions, and investments, putting the system on a sustainable footing over the longer term by shifting resources away from incarceration towards rehabilitation and ‘prehabilitation’. Our evidence convinces us that the latter approach, which we recommend, represents a prudent, rational, effective and humane use of resources over the longer-term and is necessary if the current costly prisons crisis—which even the planned prison building would only postpone—is not simply to recur.

This report is a must-read for anyone interested in planning penal policy in a sensible, cost-effective and humane fashion. It is critically important for our Government to engage in the same kind of sober assessment of our current penal system.

For more read:

CPT to re-visit Ireland

December 8, 2009 Leave a comment

It is good to read that the Council of Europe’s Committee on the Prevention of Torture (CPT) has placed Ireland on a list of countries which it intends to inspect in 2010. The last visit of the CPT was in 2006 and before that the Committee visited in 2002.

On its last visit, the CPT issued a report which criticised overcrowding and a culture of violence in some of the state’s prisons. Many of these issues have not been alleviated since and, in the case of Mountjoy in particular, have actually got worse as the Inspector of Prison’s Report has made clear.

It is to be hoped that the imminent visits will encourage penal authorities to take action to address the worst elements of the penal estate as quickly as possible. More consequential, however, would be the development of a long-term plan to reduce the levels of imprisonment in Ireland and to re-focus our system of punishment away from custodial sentences.

It is also to be hoped that the CPT will issue its report on its visit as speedily as possible.

We know what needs to be done; we just need to act speedily and do it.

Fine defaulters and Irish Prison Policy

November 10, 2009 2 comments

In the Irish Times yesterday, Conor Lally informs us that the number of people jailed for not paying fines is likely to double this year, bringing the numbers of committals for non payment of fines up to one quarter of all committals to prison. 2,520 people were committed to jail for non payment of a fine in 2008.

This should not come as a surprise as economic difficulties worsen. What is difficult to understand is why policy makers have been slow to impose what would be a very easy partial solution to our overcrowding problems. Those who cannot pay fines should not end up in prison. Those who are not deemed enough of a risk or whose offending is not serious enough to warrant a prison sentence should not be taking up much needed space in our jails.

Recent research by Professor Ian O’Donnell, Professor Eric Baumer and Nicola Hughes of University College Dublin has also found that fine defaulters who are sent to prison are the most likely of all offenders to return to prison. 85% of those sent to prison for fine default end up back in jail within 4 years. This is a startling statistic and, as the authors note, removing fine defaulters from the prison system altogether would significantly reduce recidivism rates and the numbers of released prisoners would fall, reducing the burden on the communities to which ex-prisoners return. This is quite apart from the alleviation of the administrative burden on the Irish Prison Service which comes with fine defaulters sent to prison, many of whom remain for a short period of time.

The Fines Bill 2009 will allow fines to be paid by instalments. Judges will also be able to impose Community Service Orders instead of fines. This Bill should be enacted without delay.The Oireachtas should also take this opportunity to re-examine our system of punishment and the use of Community Service Orders more generally.

Read more…

Liam Herrick, Irish Penal Reform Trust to speak at DIT, November 10th

November 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Liam Herrick, Executive Director, Irish Penal Reform Trust to speak at DIT.

As part of DIT’s School of Social Sciences and Law’s Socio-Legal Speaker Series, Liam Herrick, Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust will discuss current challenges facing the Irish prison system on Tuesday, November 10 in Room 304, DIT Mountjoy Square at 7pm. Details of the location can be found here

Liam’s talk is particularly relevant at a time of unprecedented growth in the prison population, high levels of overcrowding and violence. It promises to be a very interesting evening.

All are welcome.

For further information please contact Dr Mary Rogan, Department of Law, DIT: 01 402 3217/

Ending Imprisonment for debt is only the first step in reshaping our prison policy

October 21, 2009 Leave a comment

The Law Reform Commission’s Consultation Paper on Personal Debt Management and Debt Enforcement, published recently, provisionally recommended that imprisonment should not be an option for debt recovery. The Commission’s position, based on a thorough assessment of current Irish and international practice, is a sensible and welcome one. While there are many sound reasons against using imprisonment for debt, our Government recently reaffirmed it as a possible sanction for debtors, albeit one which is now more difficult to impose. The Enforcement of Court Orders (Amendment) Act 2009 was rushed into law following a High Court case which struck down the constitutionality of the original legislation allowing debtors to be jailed. That decision did not say that imprisonment for debt was impermissible in all circumstances. Rather, the High Court stated that there needed to be procedural protections in place before a person could be jailed for debt.

Instead of taking the opportunity presented by the judgment to eliminate imprisonment for debt in all cases, the Oireachtas decided to put in place these procedural protections, but retain the ultimate sanction of imprisonment for those who wilfully refuse to pay and there are no goods in the debtors possession which could be taken in fulfilment of the debt. Read more…

Penal-welfarism in Ireland

October 2, 2009 1 comment

escThis year’s European Society of Criminology Conference was held in the beautiful city of Ljubljana, Slovenia. I spoke there in a session with Anton Symkoviych who spoke about power relations in a Ukranian prison and Dr. Anja Dirkzwager who, along with her colleague Prof Candace Kruttschnitt, told us about their re-examination of the classic Contrasts in Tolerance by David Downes.

My own paper examined the nature of penal-welfarism in Ireland. I argue that we need to look at the concept, its tenets and underlying conditions more closely. Penal-welfarism now has a kind of “everybody knows” quality to it. However, there has been far more engagement with The Culture of Control than Garland’s earlier work Punishment and Welfare. The latter, in my view, is much more methodologically impressive, involving close attention to policy documents and the discourse of policy-makers. Read more…

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