Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

17: Sentence management (2019)

Standard 17:

Every prisoner and his/her family members, where desired, are facilitated and actively involved in sentence planning from the beginning of sentence through to the point of release.


The CoE highlights the importance of having comprehensive, individual sentence plans and the need to include the active participation of individual prisoners in this process.[364] Sentence planning is of particular importance for those serving long or life sentences and should aim at “securing progressive movement through the prison system”.[365]

Current context:

The Penal Policy Review Group (2014) outlined the importance of integrated sentence management (ISM):

The Review Group recognises that Integrated Sentence Management (ISM) is the appropriate tool for the management of sentences of more than 12 months and should be extended to all eligible prisoners. [366]

There are currently 23 dedicated ISM coordinators across the prison estate. [367] In its most recent report, the Mountjoy Prison Visiting Committee was critical of the resourcing of ISM:

The Committee is satisfied that the initial ISM processing does take place. However, in light of the large number of prisoners and the relatively small number of dedicated ISM staff, it is less certain that the performance of a prisoner throughout his sentence can be monitored and reported upon in sufficient detail to enable timely interventions to help prisoners to reach their rehabilitation objectives. A number of prisoners nearing the end of their sentences spoke to the Committee of feeling unprepared for the transition to life outside prison both in terms of their living arrangements and their employability. [368]

It is imperative that sentence management is cohesive, particularly for life-sentenced prisoners following the passage of the Parole Act 2019 [369]. The IPS has previously committed to improving sentence management for life-sentenced prisoners from an early point in the sentence. [370]

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 17

Indicator S17.1: The number of dedicated ISM officers across the estate and their caseloads.

There has been no change to the number of ISM officers across the estate, which is 23.

Indicator S17.2: Number of life-sentenced prisoners with an allocated ISM officer and active sentence plan in 2019. (new)

ISM officers by prison[371]

Prison Prison capacity Number of ISM officers ISM officers-prisoner ratio
Arbour Hill 138 1 1:138
Castlerea 340 2 1:170
Cloverhill 431 2 1:215.5
Cork 296 2 1:148
Dóchas 105 2 1:52.5
Limerick (male and female) 238 2 1:119
Loughan House 134 1 1:134
Midlands 845 3 1:281.7
Mountjoy 755 3 1:251.7
Portlaoise 291 1 1:291
Shelton Abbey 125 1 1:125
Wheatfield 550 3 1:125
Total 4,248 23 1:184.7

Note: * Prison capacity figures include prisoners that are serving a sentence of less than one year. Additionally, prisoner numbers exceed some of these capacities.

The IPS has said it is not currently possible to provide an accurate figure for active ISM caseloads broken down by sentence category, but an IT system designed to support ISM is currently under construction. [372]

Life-sentenced prisoners with allocated ISM coordinator

Prison Total life-sentenced prisoners on 30 April 2019 Total ISM coordinator interventions recorded on PIMS*
Arbour Hill 27 73
Castlerea 20 57
Cloverhill 1 0
Cork 18 38
Dóchas 7 19
Limerick (male and female) 13 29
Loughan House 16 47
Midlands 76 187
Mountjoy 63 150
Portlaoise 34 91
Shelton Abbey 21 84
Wheatfield 79 180
Total 366 955

Note: PIMS: Prison Information Management System. According to the IPS, an ISM coordinator intervention record can include: first contact assessment interview; case notes regarding a personal implementation plan or community integration plan; or case notes regarding ongoing engagement between the prisoner, the ISM Coordinator and other multi-disciplinary services. The IPS describes the above information as “an indication of ISM involvement in case management as a range of material is also recorded on paper files which cannot be accessed without an individual trawl of prisoner files”.

Indicator S17.3: Number of families who were invited to participate in the ISM process. (new)

Family conferences are not yet a feature of the ISM process.


Given the PPRG recommendation that all prisoners serving more than 12 months should be eligible for ISM, the number of ISM officers allocated per prison is very low. The scale of interventions cannot be fully met. In England and Wales, a key worker scheme is being rolled out across the entire closed prison male estate, with prison officers managing five to six prisoners on a one-to-one basis. [373] This could be a target ratio for ISM in prisons in Ireland.

While IPRT welcomes that information on ISM coordinator intervention is recorded on PIMS, this does not currently include the number of cases per ISM officer nor the number of life-sentenced prisoners with an active ISM management plan.

It is imperative that sentence management is cohesive, particularly for life-sentenced prisoners following the commencement of new legislation that increases to 12 years the eligibility for their first parole review. [374]

Despite emphasis on the importance of facilitating family involvement in sentence and release planning, there appears to be no structured format in which family members can participate in the process.

Status of Standard 17: No change

Actions required:

Action 17.1: The IPS must prioritise provision of ISM for those serving long sentences, including life
Action 17.2: The IPS should publish in its annual report data on the number of prisoners in each prison (in particular the number of life-sentenced prisoners) that have an active ISM plan.


Irish Penal Reform Trust


Copyright 2024 Irish Penal Reform Trust. CHY number: 11091

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