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Temporary release is no solution to prison overcrowding – O’Brien

25 August, 2011 - by Jonathan O'Brien TD

Speaking on the comments by the Minister for Justice following the Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2010, Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien said:

“The Minister has said the increasing number of prisoners being committed to custody is the greatest challenge facing the Irish Prison Service. The 2010 report shows that there were 17,179 committals to prison, which was an increase of 11.4% on the 2009 total. This is a fact and cannot be disputed.

“Minister Shatter’s citing of this as the cause for the increase of prisoners on temporary release is frightening. More people have been put to jail so therefore more must be given temporary release. This is truly the operation of a dysfunctional system.

“A huge amount of these prison committals relate to those sentenced for non-payment of a court ordered fines. 2010 saw an increase of 39% on the number of such committals from 2009; a jump from 4,806 to 6,688.

“In many cases such as these, alternatives to custody are more appropriate and a lot cheaper. The average annual cost of a prison space was €70,513 in 2010.

“Next month will also see a new situation where the courts will have to consider imposing a community service order for offences where a sentence of up to twelve months would be appropriate. Sinn Féin is in support of such alternatives particularly when they are served in offenders’ own communities to the benefit of the wider population at a fraction of the cost of incarceration.

“What we need is also the complete operation of the Fines Act 2010, which allows for the payment of fines by instalment. We are currently awaiting the necessary updating of the Courts Service ICT system. Legislation with no possibility of implementation is just the sort of solution offered in this state.

“The Minister must ensure alternatives to prison are put into practice for minor offences and that prisons remain a sanction for serious criminal activities.”

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