Last night the number of prisoners in custody in Mountjoy Prison reached 691, which is 151 more than the maximum safe custody limit of 540 recommended by the Inspector of Prisons in 2009. Prisoners were accommodated in the same beds in the basement of Mountjoy, sleeping head to foot. The Irish Penal Reform Trust, who obtained these figures, states that we need no further demonstration that imprisonment is not working, and that we do not need Thornton Hall. What we need is to stem the continuous rise in the prison population through early intervention and prevention policies, coupled with appropriate investment and better co-ordination of reintegration initiatives.
The latest report from the Irish Penal Reform Trust, “It’s like stepping on a landmine…” – Reintegration of Prisoners in Ireland, details 14 recommendations to address high recidivism rates in Ireland, which see almost 50% of prisoners return to prison within 4 years of release.
Speaking at the launch today, Agnieszka Martynowicz, co-author of the report said:
“The effective reintegration of prisoners is central not only to the individual’s progress, and to the reduction of harm caused by a period in custody, but also to the reduction in overall numbers of people imprisoned in the State. It is essential that we invest the money that would otherwise go into creating more prison spaces in the proper resourcing of reintegration services and supports.”
Pat Conway, Director of Services with NIACRO (Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders) spoke about the human rights approach to reintegration. With recidivism rates among young prisoners as high as 70% in Northern Ireland, more resources should be put into diversion, care and resettlement: “If you have resettlement that works, you are going to see fewer people going into prison.”
A former offender who has engaged with the Business in the Community Linkage programme spoke about the difficulties of adjusting to the pace of life outside, and about the necessity of supports and services post-release to prevent a return to prison: “Prison is a place that can destroy your confidence and your self-esteem; it’s also a place that can build your confidence.”
Lisa Cuthbert, Director of PACE, a community based voluntary agency that works in the areas of training, employment and accommodation with former prisoners, emphasized the need to maintain levels of rehabilitative services in a time of cutbacks. She also identified that investing in prevention and early intervention will lead to a reduced need for resources in prison, and consequently a reduced need for services post-release:
“Forty years ago we saw there was a link between social needs and crime. There is a depth of knowledge now, but with knowledge comes responsibility and accountability. We need to do something about it. We don’t do enough to prevent all the factors that we know cause crime.”
“It’s like stepping on a landmine…” – Reintegration of Prisoners in Ireland
The IPRT report assesses the current provision of reintegration services and support for prisoners before and after their release from prison, identifies a number of key systemic failures, and makes 14 clear recommendations for necessary improvements. The report received support from the Community Foundation for Ireland and the St Stephens Green Trust. To access the report, including a summary of key findings, please see details of the content of the report here as well as a link to the report itself.
On publication of the report, IPRT is making three clear calls:
1. There is an urgent need for ‘second chance’ legislation in Ireland: The Spent Convictions Bill introduced in 2007 has stalled. It needs to be reintroduced and passed with urgency. The lack of such legislation in Ireland presents a significant barrier to employment, education/training, and other areas of life, and thus increases the risks of reoffending.
2. Access to rehabilitative services and support should be made available to all prisoners, not only those serving longer sentences. Integrated Sentence Management is currently limited to those serving sentences of 12mths or more, and is therefore only available to 30% of prisoners.
3. There is an urgent need to extend mental health diversion service, such as the Prison In-reach Court Liaison Service at Cloverhill, all prisons. There is no equality of provision of services and support across the prison estate.
Spent Convictions Bill (2007)
Spent Convictions legislation is a means whereby after a set period following a criminal conviction, provided no further offences have been committed, a person no longer has to declare his/her criminal record. The lack of this legislation is a significant barrier to employment, and thus increases the risks of reoffending. (It also presents barriers to education/training, insurance, travel and even mortgages in some cases.) Ireland is one of the only countries in the EU and even in the Council of Europe area, to not have Spent Convictions legislation; the UK has had it since 1974. It was introduced into the Dáil by in 2007, but has since stalled – in a recent Dáil Question (25th March 2010) Minister Andrews said it is sitting on his table.
Latest posts by Fíona Ní Chinnéide (see all)
- Ireland’s examination by the UN Committee against Torture - May 23, 2011
- Ireland’s Shame as European Torture Committee Presents Damning Indictment of Irish Prison System - February 10, 2011
- Young offenders’ capacity for rehabilitation undermined by imprisonment in St Patrick’s Institution - February 10, 2011
- 6,681 imprisoned for non-payment of fines as legislation awaits full commencement - February 2, 2011
- IPRT Welcomes the Labour Penal Reform Policy Document Launched Today - January 11, 2011