Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

1: Towards a progressive penal policy

Standard 1:

Penal policy is continually monitored, implemented, evaluated and evolving.


Penal policy in Ireland should reflect the guiding principles and values of penal reform (see Part 1). At the same time, policy should maintain a level of flexibility to adapt to emerging issues, the needs of the prison population, and the changing prison environment. Therefore, implementation, regular review and evaluation of penal policy are imperative.

Current context:

In the 2017 PIPS report, the significance of two national policy documents on penal reform was outlined: the Oireachtas Sub-Committee Report on Penal Reform [167] (2013) and the Strategic Review of Penal Policy Final Report [168] (2014). At the time of writing, the Implementation Oversight Group had submitted five [169] reports to the Minister for Justice and Equality on the latter.

Following another review of penal reform, in May 2018 the current Oireachtas Joint Committee published its Report on Penal Reform and Sentencing [170] , with 29 recommendations. Progress on the five key recommendations of the 2013 Committee and how they align with recommendations [171] made by the 2018 Committee are outlined below.

Table 1: Key recommendations made by the Oireachtas Joint Committee (2013) [172] and repeated/similar recommendations by Oireachtas Joint Committee (2018) [173]

Recommendation (2013) Recommendation (2018) Progress Analysis
1. Reduce the prison population by one-third over ten years. The Committee made an enhanced recommendation that Government adopt a clear strategy to reduce the prison population by half over a fixed timescale. Daily Average Number of Persons in Custody [174]
2013: 4,158
2014: 3,915
2015: 3,722
2016: 3,718
2017: 3,680
At the current rate, the daily prison population will not be reduced by one-third by 2023
2. Commute sentences of less than six months imposed for non- violent offences and replace with Community Service Orders A repeated recommendation made by the Committee (2018) that sentences of less than six months should be replaced with Community Service Orders. [175]

Number of Persons in Prison for less than six months (snapshot figures): [176]

2013: 153
2014: 126
2015: 124
2016: 163
2017: 201

Committals under Sentence of 6 months or less (excl.fines committals) [177]

2011: 2,342
2012: 2,267
2013: 1,964
2014: 1,631
2015: 1,622
2016: 1,518
2017: 1,755

Snapshot figures (30 th November of each year) provided in IPS annual reports show an increase in the daily number of persons in prison serving sentences of less than six months. [[footnote num=178}}

Snapshot figures on the same date (30 th November 2017) show that only 55 individuals were on the Community Support Scheme. [179] This is a much lower number than the number serving a sentence of less than six months in 2017 and may need further interrogation as to the reasons for this.

There has been an overall welcome decline in the number of committals under sentence; however, 2017 saw an increase from 2016.

3. Increase remission from 25% to 33% for all sentences over one month, and establish an enhanced remission scheme of up to half a sentence. The Oireachtas Committee (2018) made no new recommendation on this. Little progress has been made on this. There have been no developments in increasing remission levels or developing an enhanced remission scheme. However, a review of enhanced remission has been carried out. [180] This review has not been published.
Introduce a single piece of legislation that would form the basis of a structured release system. While the Oireachtas [181] did not make a new recommendation on this, it welcomed the success of the Community Return Programme [182] and recommended that eligibility criteria for this programme be expanded. Little progress
made in this area.

IPRT has previously advocated for a single piece of legislation that would form the basis of a structured release system, explicitly outlining the criteria for prisoners who can avail of early release programmes. [183] This has not happened.

The Community Return Programme allows for early release of prisoners serving sentences of one to eight years in exchange for unpaid community work. [184] IPRT is concerned at the reduction in numbers availing of this programme, which have halved since 2014. [185]

There has been some progress on the Parole Bill 2016, [186] which is due to move to report stage shortly. [187] IPRT has concerns around this proposed legislation. [188]

5. Address overcrowding and prison conditions with increased use of open prisons.

The Committee [189] in 2018 recommended capping numbers in each prison.

A step-down approach to prisoners post release was recommended, in particular the Housing First model. [190]


According to daily prisoner population figures, as of 29 th June 2018, five out of twelve prisons are operating above the Inspector of Prisons’ recommended maximum capacity, with female prisons the worst affected. [191]

In 2017, the PIPS report identified a reduction in open provision in Ireland from 9% in 2016 to 6.7% in 2017. Despite plans and commitments to increase open provision including a step-down facility for females and open prison provision for males in Dublin, these plans have yet to be progressed.

Strategic review of penal policy: implementation of penal policy recommendations

Since the publication of PIPS 2017, the fourth and fifth Reports of the Implementation Oversight Group [192] have been published. In its fifth [193] report, three out of 43 actions received an ‘A’ status with the majority of actions receiving a ‘D’ status, meaning little progress on the recommended actions has been achieved. The three actions that received an ‘A’ status were the completion of the new Cork prison; the consideration of open prisons being used for weekend sentencing,which, it concluded, was ‘not considered a priority’; [194] and the increased use of open prisons, particularly for female offenders. In relation to the latter, while a decision was made to proceed with facilities, the facility has yet to be established. Further quarterly reports of the Implementation Oversight Group due for publication have yet to be published.

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 1

Indicator S1.1:

Number of policy commitments made by the Oireachtas Sub-Committee (2013) and the Strategic Review Group on Penal Policy (SRGPP) (2014) that have been fully implemented.

Oireachtas Sub-Committee (2013):
0/5 have been fully implemented

SRGPP: [195]
Fully implemented (A): 3
Implementation phase progressing (B): 17
Implementation phase commenced (C): 14
Discussion/consultation/planning phase (D): 20
No progress (E): 1.

Indicator S1.2:

Progress on the publication of sentencing, prisons and probation data to inform evidence-based criminal justice policy.

The 2017 PIPS report [196] suggested that one of the key actions the Department of Justice and Equality should implement is the recommendation by the Strategic Review Group on Penal Policy on the collation of criminal justice data. In this respect, IPRT welcomes the recent publication of the Data and Research Strategy 2018–2020: Supporting delivery of “A safe, fair and inclusive Ireland”. [197] The Strategy commits to “systematically quantify and publish information on what we do, analyse and evaluate its quality and effectiveness, and develop measures on our outcomes, to enable policy questions regarding why and how we should plan and deliver services in the future”. [198] One key action is to develop a culture of research. [199]

IPRT also welcomes newly published data on participation rates in work and training and education published by the Irish Prison Service in its Annual Report 2017. [200] Despite a commitment to the United Nations Committee against Torture in July 2017 to publish data on lengths of remand, [201] this has not yet happened.

Indicator S1.3:

Implementation of IPRT (PIPS) Standards.

IPRT has received significant engagement on the PIPS standards from the Irish Prison Service, which we welcome. We have also received some engagement from the Department of Justice and Equality.

Actions required:

Action 1.1: The Department of Justice and Equality must fully implement five key recommendations outlined in the Strategic Review of Penal Policy by end 2018.
Action 1.2: The Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality should track and monitor the implementation of the recommendations made in their 2018 report.
Action 1.3: All criminal justice bodies should publish relevant data to inform research, policy and practice.
Action 1.4: The identified changemakers should consider formal adoption of and commitment to IPRT’s standards in order to progress penal policy in the right direction.


IPRT Irish Penal Reform Trust


Copyright 2019 Irish Penal Reform Trust. CHY number: 11091

viewed here