Review of Policy Options for Prison and Penal Reform 2022-2024
The Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD, announced that the government has approved the Review of Policy Options for Prison and Penal Reform 2022-2024 together with an associated action plan.
The Programme for Government 2020 contains a broad range of policies and proposals that represent a coherent approach to enhancing and sustaining a more just and safe society. Completion of this review and its approval by Government delivers on the specific Programme for Government commitment to review policy options for prison and penal reform.
Publishing the Review the Minister said, “I am delighted to publish the Review of Policy Options for Prison and Penal Reform 2022-2024. It is essential that the punishment that people receive matches the crime that they have committed. People who commit serious crimes which cause considerable harm and distress to victims, and to society as a whole, should be dealt with in a way that reflects the impact on victims and their family.”
“The government are committed to the principle that adequate, appropriate and proportional punishment for those who commit crime is an essential and central element of our criminal justice system, but core to our penal system is also the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration back in to society in order to reduce reoffending. Reducing the overall rate of re-offending, is part of the government’s overall plan to ensure our communities are safe. This includes investment into An Garda Síochána, increasing the number of Gardaí and investing in new technologies such as body worn cameras and CCTV.”
Among the issues the review makes recommendations on, is reducing the use of short custodial sentences (especially sentences under 3 months) and exploring how the judiciary can be provided with a greater range of non-custodial sanctions. Community sanctions can play a role in addressing criminality, reducing reoffending and providing protection to the public while holding the individual accountable. Non-custodial sentences, which includes sentencing a person to undertake community service, means that a person can retain links to their own community (e.g. family connections, their job) which improves the chances that they will not re-offend.
The Minister continued, “over the years our understanding of how educational, health and other policies can contribute to the prevention of crime and reoffending has grown. We better understand how diverting people away from crime at the earliest possible stage has immense value in reducing crime, reducing the number of victims of crime and reducing the subsequent damage to victims and the families of offenders.”
“This review acknowledges that punishment alone does not prevent offending or make everyone safer. Interventions and services to promote better social behaviour, rehabilitation and end offending are necessary to drive and sustain real change. The introduction of minimum tariffs for life sentences will ensure that judges can ensure that a convicted person will serve a minimum number of years before they are entitled to apply for parole. Judges would have to take into account aggravating and mitigating circumstances. In practice, it could mean, for example, that a judge could decide to impose a life sentence and stipulate that a minimum of 20, 25, or 30 years must be served.”
Including twenty one actions, the Review of Policy Options for Prison and Penal Reform 2022-2024 identifies six priority actions, interventions that have been identified to reduce reoffending, support desistance from offending, avoid overcrowding in prisons, and reduce reliance on custodial sentences as the primary criminal sanction except where determined necessary and proportionate to the suffering of the victim, particularly in relation to serious crimes which may result in life sentences.
These six priorities 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 imprisonment to reduce re-offending and overcrowding in prisons.
3. To take forward the implementation plan of the taskforce established to consider the mental health and addiction challenges of those imprisoned and primary care support on release.
4. To ensure that all criminal justice policy decisions are pre-assessed to determine, as far as possible, 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.
The Minister concluded by saying, “in many ways this is the beginning. The 21 actions recommended by this review include specific timeframes for delivery. It is my intention that over the next few years these actions will be incorporated into the relevant Justice Plan and the Implementation Oversight Group will regularly report to me on progress.”
“I would like to conclude by taking this opportunity to thank the cross-sectoral group. Their experience, insight, hard work and commitment were essential to realising this objective. I look forward to the positive changes their recommendations will realise across the criminal justice sector.”