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Committee calls on government to reduce prisoner numbers by one-third

The committee also recommended that sentences of six months or less for non-violent crimes be replaced with community service orders.

A NEW REPORT from the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality has called for government to reduce prison population numbers by one-third over a 10-year period.

The committee’s chairman, Deputy David Stanton, said that they were “concerned about the significant increase over recent years” and that a “decarceration strategy” would help reduce the numbers of prisoners.

The adoption of this ‘decarceration’ for non-violent prisoners would help reduce the prison population in Ireland to mid-90s levels. There were 4,306 people in prison custody in Ireland as of 7 March this year.

Senator Ivana Bacik, who is a member of the sub-committee on penal reform, also said that the group were recommending that all sentences for non-violent crimes that were six months or less be commuted and replaced with community service orders.

Other proposals

Also recommended in the report was an increase in the standard remission from one-quarter to one-third of a prisoner’s sentence, increasing again to one-half in certain cases.

“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,” Bacik said.

Legislation to cover structured release, temporary release, parole and community return was also recommended by the committee.

“In addition, actions should be taken to improve conditions within prisons generally,” the senator said. “The proportion of open prisons should also be increased.”

Irish Penal Reform Trust

The Irish Penal Reform Trust responded to the report by calling on government to adopt the decarcertaion strategy, with executive director Liam Herrick saying that the consensus among the groups provided a “once in a lifetime opportunity for real and lasting change.”

A major obstacle to reform in the past has been the politicisation of crime policy. It is very significant that we now have cross-party consensus on what needs to change in the wider penal system in order to make the system effective, efficient and to reduce reoffending after release.

Read: Rattigan found guilty of dealing drugs from prison cell >

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Paul Hyland

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