Posts Tagged ‘prison policy’

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.

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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/

Religion and Diet in Irish Prisons.

September 21, 2009 Leave a comment

The Irish Independent reports today that a Jewish prisoner of British origin has taken an action in the High Court, claiming that certain of his constitutional rights have been breached by Cloverhill Prison’s failure to provide kosher meals.  Although the case appears to be the first of its kind in Ireland, the judgment has not been reported in any detail. However, we do know that the High Court refused the reliefs sought, “ruling that it was satisfied that Cloverhill prison had taken every step to ensure that the prisoner’s dietary requirements were being met”. The Deputy Governor of the prison has also acceded to a request that the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland visit the kitchens to inspect them and advise staff on compliance with the kashrut laws.  The facts in today’s story are very similar to (so much so that it is likely that they deal with the same prisoner) those in Dunne v. High Court, a case from July of this year in which a Jewish prisoner of British origin challenged the decision of Westminster Magistrate’s court  to accede to the Irish High Court’s application for extradition, inter alia on the grounds that his rights under Article 3 of the ECHR (to freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment) would be breached by Irish prison staff’s anticipated refusal to respect his kosher diet.  The English High Court held that the Article 3 threshold was not reached because an “absence of evidence that prison staff in Ireland will guarantee service of exclusively… kosher food does not amount to a real risk of inhuman and degrading conduct”.

Herrick on Ireland’s prison policy

September 21, 2009 Leave a comment

Liam_Herrick1The Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, Liam Herrick (left), writes in today’s Irish Independent about the implications of the state’s current prison policy and particularly the policy of increasing prison places within the state. The entire column is worth reading and is available here, however the following extract gives a good idea of Liam’s overall argument:

IN Ireland, we know that our prison population is made up in significant part by young people who slip through the cracks of our care system, our education system and our mental health services and who come largely from a small number of extremely poor urban communities where economic policies have failed.

An economic analysis of crime would lead us to investing in those communities and services as the most prudent way to avoiding the long-term costs of an inflated prison system.

We are not so naive as to think that all or even most crime is preventable, but a more sophisticated approach to crime is possible. It’s not a question of being soft on crime, it is a question of being smart and effective in how we respond to crime.

We will always have prisons, but in a society that seeks to prevent social problems and build stronger communities, prison should only be used as a last resort.

Instead, resources should be directed towards early intervention and diversion, alternatives to custody, and ensuring the humane treatment of prisoners where imprisonment is deemed necessary.

This commentary comes hot on the heels of the report of the Inspector of Prisons which Liz Campbell blogged about here. In her post, Liz’s focus was on “Limiting the imposition of prison sentences to grave and violent crimes”, which would “improve the protection of human rights for those who are imprisoned, and…free up resources for alterative measures for non-violent and drug offenders who need not be detained in this way”. In this, both Liz and Liam are of one mind and indeed these sentiments have been echoed throughout the human rights community at home and abroad.

(Photo credit)

Inspector of Prisons, Annual Report 2008

September 4, 2009 2 comments

The recently published Annual Report 2008 of the Inspector of Prisons presents a bleak picture of prisons in Ireland, with overcrowding, the mental health of prisoners and lack of sentence management in particular being highlighted.

The problem of overcrowding was described in the Report as “acute”. This is highly problematic, given that overcrowding stretches staff and monetary resources, compromises the availability of rehabilitative, educational, visiting and medical facilities, and exacerbates tension and violence. For example, in Limerick Prison the number of female prisoners was almost treble the design capacity, a situation described as “inhuman treatment”. Moreover, the situation in Mountjoy was of such gravity that the inspector wrote to the Department and to the Irish Prison Service in Feb 2009 expressing his fear that this practice could “lead to possible serious injury or loss of life.” The Inspector further noted the prevalence of drugs in Irish prisons, and the growing issue of gangs and inter-prisoner violence. Such problems are exacerbated by overcrowding. Furthermore, slopping out continues in Mountjoy, a practice deemed by the Inspector and his predecessor as inhuman and degrading treatment. Indeed, the Court of Session in Scotland in Napier v Scottish Ministers (2004) found that the practice of slopping out in overcrowded conditions breached the applicant’s rights under Articles 3 and 8 of the ECHR, leading to the payment of damages by the Scottish Government. There is no comparable successful case against the Irish State, which would could have expedited the removal of this practice.

In addition, the Report laments the absence of a proper sentence management scheme which would address the aetiology of the crime, programmes to pursue in prison, and other means of preventing recidivism. In this regard the Inspector recommends a sentence plan for all convicted prisoners for 12 months or more. This would cover the period from committal to release, and recognizes the autonomy of the person by involving the prisoner in discussion. However, the Report added that some progress in this regard is evident in the Irish Prison Service’s piloting of the “Integrated Sentence Management System” which moves to a prisoner focused model in which a personalized plan is made based on the needs of the particular individual.

Given that the prison population in Ireland seems on a steady upward arc, and given the apparent abandonment of the Thornton Hall prison plans, it is difficult to see how overcrowding can be alleviated. The Inspector called for reconsideration of the holding of illegal immigrants in prison, and welcomed the proposed move away from imprisoning fine defaulters. His progressive suggestion of temporary release combined with restorative justice initiatives could remedy overcrowding to a degree. However, it seems that an even more radical change is required, wherein imprisonment is regarded truly as the option of last resort, and where for non-violent crime the presumptive punishment is a community sanction or one based on restorative justice. Limiting the imposition of prison sentences to grave and violent crimes will improve the protection of human rights for those who are imprisoned, and will free up resources for alterative measures for non-violent and drug offenders who need not be detained in this way.