Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

Assessment of Progress (2019)

How to read PIPS

The overall purpose of PIPS is to track progress across a broad range of areas in Ireland’s penal system, all underscored by the fundamental principle that prison is damaging in itself and therefore should be used sparingly, with community sanctions as the default response.

When reading PIPS, it is important to consider how each of the 35 Standards interrelate. Just because a prison is small in size, does not mean it is a well-functioning prison; however, having a small prison can allow for positive relationships between staff and prisoners to flourish, thus resulting in a reduced likelihood of violence.

Similarly, offering a broad range of educational courses will not be meaningful if a significant number of prisoners are locked up for 21 or more hours per day. It is therefore important that each of the standards is not read in isolation, but is considered as part of an interconnected whole.

IPRT uses a wide variety of research methods to gather the evidence on which to base our annual assessment, including: a comprehensive desk review of published information and reports; requesting information directly from stakeholders; parliamentary questions; and more.

On the basis of the evidence gathered, we make a top-line assessment and then apply one of the following categories to each standard regarding progress made over the 12-month period: progress; regress; mixed; no change; and insufficient data. These are explained below.

Progress: Where there has been identified and significant movement towards attainment of the standard.
Regress: Where there has been identified and significant movement away from the attainment of the standard.
Mixed: Where there has been both progress towards the standard in some areas and regress away from it in others.
No change: Where there has been neither significant progress nor regress.
Insufficient data: Where sufficient or adequate data is not available to make a reliable assessment of progress towards the standard.

PIPS 2019: Assessment of progress

In PIPS 2019, we conduct a repeat assessment of the performance of the penal system in Ireland. In doing so, we identify areas that have seen improvement, areas that have seen stasis, and areas where regress has occurred. These are summarised below.

Standard Theme Assessment Rationale
S1 Progressive penal policy Mixed The publication of research and data has been positive. However, there has been no significant progress towards the implementation of core penal policy recommendations. Recommendations, such as enshrining the principle of imprisonment as a last resort in statute and the establishment of a Consultative Council to advise on penal issues, remain outstanding.
S2 Imprisonment as a last resort Regress Ireland’s imprisonment rate in July 2019 stood at 82 per 100,000. In 2018, there has been an increases in the number of committals serving short sentences, as well as the daily average number of persons in custody.
S3 Safe custody limits No change Overcrowding has remained a feature across the closed prison estate over the last 12 months.
S4 Size of prisons No change There has been no change to the size of prisons across the estate.
S5 Minimum security settings No change There has been no new low-security facilities opened in the last 12 months.
S6 Open prison provision No change Open provision in Ireland remains at the same rate in 2019.
S7 Humane prison conditions Regress While prison conditions can be difficult to assess in the absence of recently published independent inspection reports, there has been regress where as a result of chronic overcrowding, people are sleeping on mattresses.
S8 In-cell sanitation Regress Slopping out continues to affect similar numbers, however there has been a significant increase in the number of prisoners toileting in the presence of others.
S9 Single cell accommodation Regress There has been a slight decrease in the number of prisoners having access to single-cell accommodation with proposals to double up cells as a response to prison overcrowding.
S10 Separation of remand from sentenced prisoners Mixed There has been an overall increase in the number of people held on remand. According to snapshot figures, there has been a slight decrease in the number of persons on remand sharing a cell with sentenced persons, from 29% in 2018 to 27% in 2019. However, these are only point in time figures.
S11 Family contact Mixed

There have been some positive steps including the introduction of parenting programmes in a number of prisons.

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) has reviewed times of visits to better facilitate school going children. However there has been little detail on the experiences or standards of contact for children and families affected by imprisonment. There has been no national strategy fort children affected by imprisonment.

S12 Access to healthcare services Mixed A tendering process for a prisons healthcare review has commenced. Issues of access to healthcare were raised in a number of Visiting Committee reports.
S13 Mental healthcare No change There has been no change where 29 prisoners were awaiting transfer to the Central Mental Hospital at the end of April 2019. There continues to be waiting lists for prisoners in accessing Prison Psychology Services.
S14 Drug and alcohol treatments Mixed Last year there was insufficient data available to assess this standard. Information provided in 2019 showed that there was 314 people on a waiting list to access drug treatment in prisons. There is also poor prisoner: addiction counsellor ratios.
S15 Privacy Mixed The Press Ombudsman of Ireland has made presentations to prisoners on how to make a complaint. There was a very low number of complaints made by prisoners and their families to the Irish Prison Service.
S16 Out of cell time Regress There has been an increase in the number of prisoners on restricted regimes. There has also been reports of continued limited out of cell time for the mainstream prison population as a result of staffing levels.
S17 Integrated sentence management [ISM] No change There remains no change of the number of ISM coordinators across the estate.
S18 Life skills No change There has been no new opening of an Independent Living Skill Units across the estate.
S19 Education Insufficient data There has been insufficient data available to measure progress in this area.
S20 Community engagement & involvement Progress There has been some positive community projects within the prison estate throughout the year including projects such as the Red Cross Programme, Bohemian Foundation and Progression Park Run.
S21 Political & civic participation Mixed Voting rates were slightly higher for the presidential election in 2018 and divorce/local elections referendum in 2019 than the 36th Amendment to the Constitution in May 2018. However, voting rates remain at incredibly low levels.
S22 Complaints system No change A new internal complaints system is due to be introduced by quarter 3 of 2019.
S23 Independent complaints and appeal mechanism No change Prisoners still do not have access to a fully independent external complaints mechanism or access to the Office of the Ombudsman.
S24 Inspections & monitoring

No change

There has been no new prison inspection reports published in 2018/2019. There has been no reform of Prison Visiting Committees and the previous timeline of publishing legislation to ratify OPCAT has not been published.
S25 Investigations into deaths in custody Mixed A low number of investigation reports have been published. Significant action has been taken by the IPS towards addressing a recurring issue identified by the OiP in reports.
S26 Solitary confinement Regress There has been an increase in the number of people held in solitary confinement. Furthermore, no data has been published on the number of people held in prolonged solitary confinement.
S27 Violence in prisons Progress Overall, IPRT welcomes the opening of a National Violence Reduction Unit in Midlands Prison in November 2018. The unit is co-led by prison psychology and the prison governor. IPRT welcomes the consistent publication of data on assaults by the IPS. This will help identify long term trends across the prison estate.
S28 Prisoner escorts Progress IPRT welcomes the publication of a review conducted by the Department of Justice and Equality in 2018 in particular, its recommendation that a detailed framework should govern the performance of prisoner escort services.
S29 Staff training Progress There has been some positive developments including a focus on human rights as part of recruit prison officer training. The IPS has also introduced a Protected Disclosures Policy.
S30 Developing positive relationships and work culture Insufficient data There is insufficient data published to gauge positive relationships and work culture.
S31 Use of force Progress IPRT welcomes that the IPS is recording and publishing information on the number of restraint techniques.
S32 Cohorts of prisoners at risk of discrimination Mixed There has been some progress towards combatting discrimination including the implementation of the Public Sector Duty particularly with women in prison. There have also been some progressive developments for Travellers in the prison system including the continued work of the Traveller in Prisons Initiative. However there appears to be little progress among other groups such as individuals with disabilities and foreign nationals.
S32.1 Women who offend Mixed While the number of female committals has decreased, there has been an increase in the daily female population, with women’s prisons consistently overcrowded in 2018 and 2019. IPRT welcomes the establishment of a step-down facility for women leaving prisons.
S33 Parole system


IPRT welcomes the Parole Act 2019 which places the Parole Board on a statutory footing. The Parole Board should be fully resourced.
S34/S35 Reintegration Progress There has been an Oireachtas review of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016 and a Private Members Bill, the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 has been introduced which aims to broaden the range of convictions which may become spent.
Irish Penal Reform Trust


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