Home > Penal reform high on the agenda.

Connolly, Johnny (2013) Penal reform high on the agenda. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 47, Autumn 2013, p. 35.

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A report on penal reform by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality1 makes a number of recommendations aimed at reducing overcrowding in Irish prisons and promoting the development of effective alternatives to imprisonment. In October 2011, the Joint Committee established a sub-committee on penal reform, following publication of a report by the Thornton Hall Project Review Group.2  

The Thornton Hall Group considered the application of alternatives to custody from both front-door and back-door perspectives. Front-door strategies involve reducing the numbers sent to prison, while back-door strategies involve some form of early release. The Group’s report identifies (on p. 60) three forms of early release in Ireland:
°          the government power to commute or remit any sentence under Article 13.6 of the Constitution;
°          remission under the Prison Rules, which provide that prisoners can earn remission of up to 25% of their sentence; and
°          temporary release, provided for under the Criminal Justice Act 1960 as amended by the Criminal Justice (Temporary Release of Prisoners) Act 2003.
The recommendations of the Joint Committee are aimed at enhancing these measures. Concerned about the ‘significant increase over recent years in the number of prisoners in Ireland’, the Committee called, in an overarching recommendation, for ‘the adoption of a ”decarceration strategy”; a declared intention by the Government to reduce the prison population by one-third over a ten-year period’ (p.9). The Committee also recommended that all sentences of less than six months’ imprisonment imposed in respect of non-violent offences should be commuted and replaced with community service orders and that standard remission should be increased from one-quarter to one-third of all sentences over one month in length.
The Joint Committee also endorsed a recommendation made by the Irish Penal Reform Trust in its submission to the committee3 in calling for ‘a single piece of legislation which would set out the basis for a structured release system; to include proposed changes to remission…temporary release and parole. …for an expanded community return programme…[and to] underpin the strategies currently used by groups working with offenders post-release, and with potential offenders’ (p.9). Finally, the Committee highlighted the need to address poor prison conditions and prison overcrowding and it called for an increase in the number of open prisons.
1.     Houses of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice Defence and Equality (2013) Report on penal reform. Dublin: Houses of the Oireachtas. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/19618
2.     The Thornton Hall Project Review Group was established in April 2011 by the Minister for Justice and Equality to review proposals of the previous government to build a large prison called Thornton Hall in County Dublin. See: Project Review Group (2011) Report of the Thornton Hall Project Review Group. Dublin: Department of Justice and Equality. www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/ThorntonHallReviewRpt
3.     The Irish Penal Reform Trust is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of people in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy. See: Irish Penal Reform Trust (2012) Reform of remission, temporary release and parole. Dublin: Irish Penal Reform Trust. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/18656
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Crime prevention
Issue Title
Issue 47, Autumn 2013
Page Range
p. 35
Health Research Board
Issue 47, Autumn 2013
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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