IPRT welcomes commitment to penal reform and imprisonment as a last resort but calls for clearer statement on Thornton Hall
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) welcomes the clear commitment to penal reform and imprisonment as a last resort included in the Labour Penal Reform Policy Document, which was launched today. IPRT believes this policy statement forms part of a growing consensus across parties and agencies that our system of punishing crime is in need of radical overhaul, and that a programme of penal reform is now both necessary and achievable.
In particular, IPRT welcomes:
- the commitment to enshrine in legislation the principle of imprisonment as a last resort by way of a proposed Sentencing Act
- the emphasis on increased accountability, to include an independent complaints mechanism for prisoners and the extension of the Ombudsman for Children’s Office remit to receive complaints from children held in St Patrick’s Institution
- proposals to extend successful initiatives such as youth diversion programmes, restorative justice projects and other court diversion schemes, including the drugs courts and mental health in-reach programmes
- practical, cost-sensitive proposals to increase the provision of open prisons and the use of community service as an alternative to prison
The policy emphasis on youth justice is particularly welcome, including commitments to: build upon progresses made in youth diversion and case management; extend the Ombudsman for Children’s Office remit; and end the imprisonment of children in St Patrick’s Institution. Medical, psychological, and sociological research all shows that children under 18 have a greater capacity for rehabilitation than adults who commit similar crimes – this makes it all the more crucial that ending the imprisonment of children in St. Patrick’s Institution must be a priority. In this context, IPRT is now calling on all parties to commit in their manifestos to prioritising the building of the new National Children Detention Centre at Oberstown, Lusk as a matter of urgency.
Welcoming the policy document today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said:
“It is clear that a sea-change is underway in looking at how we tackle crime, with wide recognition that the recent dramatic expansion of our prison system has not made society safer. Instead we need to focus resources on prevention and early intervention strategies, which are proven to be cheaper and more effective in the long run.
“In the run up to the general election, we need to ask our politicians the right questions: is it our goal to increase the size of our prison system and lock more people away or is it our goal to make society safer for everyone? In committing to policies based on imprisonment as a last resort and the respect for the human rights of everyone, including victims, IPRT believes the right steps are being taken towards creating better and safer communities.
“However, we need a more clear statement on the future of Thornton Hall. We continue to have serious misgivings about the viability of that project in the context of scarce resources and of the urgent need to refurbish the existing prison estate, alongside the completion of the new National Children Detention Facility. It is imperative that we bring an end to the imprisonment of boys at St Patrick’s Institution at the earliest opportunity. Even if the new facility is completed by mid-2013, in the intervening years hundreds of children will have had the negative and damaging experience of detention in St. Patrick’s – and a crucial opportunity to save another generation will have been lost.”
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