Responding to news reports this morning of overcrowding at the Dóchas women’s centre in Mountjoy Prison, Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn has said that the serious issues raised would be addressed if the Oireachtas Justice Committee's report and recommendations on penal reform were implemented by the Government.
Speaking today Deputy Mac Lochlainn said;
“Sinn Féin has long called for the use of alternatives to custodial sentences such as fines and community service for low level, non-violent crimes.
The Oireachtas Justice Committee report on penal reform recommends this approach also as one of their five key recommendations.
“If this report was implemented in full I am sure this would solve the problem of overcrowding reported this morning and would go a long way to solving the problem of overcrowding in our men’s prisons also.
“I call on the Justice Minister Alan Shatter to ensure that this report is implemented as soon as possible.”
Note: The five recommendations from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on penal reform:
1. REDUCE PRISON NUMBERS.
The Sub-Committee is concerned about the significant increase over recent years in the numbers of prisoners in Ireland. It strongly recommends 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.
2. COMMUTE PRISON SENTENCES OF LESS THAN SIX MONTHS.
The Sub-Committee recommends that all sentences for under 6 months imprisonment imposed in respect of non-violent offences should be commuted and replaced with community service orders.
3. INCREASE STANDARD REMISSION FROM ONE-QUARTER TO ONE-THIRD AND INTRODUCE AN INCENTIVISED REMISSION SCHEME OF UP TO ONE- HALF.
The Sub-Committee recommends that standard remission should be increased from one-quarter to one-third of all sentences over one month in length. An enhanced remission scheme of up to one-half should be made available on an incentivised basis for certain categories of prisoner, particularly those serving a prison sentence for the first time.
4. INTRODUCE LEGISLATION PROVIDING FOR STRUCTURED RELEASE, TEMPORARY RELEASE, PAROLE AND COMMUNITY RETURN.
The Sub-Committee endorses the Irish Penal Reform Trust recommendation for a single piece of legislation which would set out the basis for a structured release system; to include proposed changes to remission set out above, and to temporary release and parole. The Sub-Committee recommends that this legislation could also provide a statutory framework for an expanded community return programme. Legislation could also underpin the strategies currently used by groups working with offenders post-release, and with potential offenders.
5. ADDRESS PRISON CONDITIONS AND OVERCROWDING; AND INCREASE THE USE OF OPEN PRISONS.
The Sub-Committee was informed that structured release and incentivised remission programmes could not operate effectively within prisons unless prison conditions are improved and overcrowding tackled. The recommendations listed above would help to alleviate the overcrowding problem. In addition, actions should be taken to improve conditions within prisons generally. The proportion of open prisons should also be increased.