Home > Progress in the penal system (PIPS): assessing progress during a pandemic.

Irish Penal Reform Trust. (2021) Progress in the penal system (PIPS): assessing progress during a pandemic. Dublin: Irish Penal Reform Trust.


Coinciding with the start of a new cycle of Progress in the Penal System (PIPS), 2020 has been an extraordinary year to examine penal reform, given the context of the pandemic. At the end of the first three-year cycle of PIPS (2017–2019), our overall assessment was that progress in the penal system in Ireland was underway, albeit at a slower pace than the project originally envisioned. An emergency period, the Covid-19 pandemic, has shown how rapidly positive change can occur – most notably, there was a substantial reduction in prisoner numbers within a month of the pandemic being declared. The State must now build upon the progress it has made in a time of crisis and sustain this positive change. It must also work to address shortcomings outlined in PIPS 2020.

Part one of PIPS 2020 provides an overview of the penal system’s initial response to Covid-19 in Ireland. Compared with neighbouring jurisdictions, the Irish Prison Service (IPS) did exceptionally well in keeping Covid-19 out of Ireland’s prisons. There were zero Covid-19 cases in prisons during Ireland’s first lockdown. This achievement is widely recognised. However, it must not be the only measure used to determine success. This section outlines the importance of meeting minimum human rights obligations, and underlines that any measures that may impinge on human rights must be proportionate, necessary and time-limited...

The second part of PIPS 2020 focuses on 12 of 35 standards that a best practice penal system must meet, grouped into four interconnected thematic areas. The statistical data obtained for this project primarily relates to the period mid-2019 to mid-2020.

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