A big drop in the number of people jailed for fines and a fall in the amount of prisoners in solitary confinement has been praised by Laois TD and Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan.
Minister Flanagan welcomed what were described as a range of progressive achievements by the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service in 2017.
He said achievements are detailed in the Annual Reports of the two services which have been acknowledged by Government and will be published, along with the Joint Irish Prison Service / Probation Service Strategic Plan 2018-2020, in the coming weeks.
He said the closure of St Patrick’s Institution as a place of detention ensured that children are no longer held in the adult prison system for the first time in Irish history.
"This was a key Government commitment and a huge achievement for all involved," he said.
He said a further important change was an amendment to the Prison Rules which has brought Ireland into line with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the ‘Mandela Rules’, in respect of restricted regimes and solitary confinement.
"We have seen a very significant drop in the number of prisoners on solitary confinement (22/23 hour) from 72 in Q1 of 2017 to just 9 in Q4. Indeed, since 2013 we have witnessed a huge drop in this cohort decreasing from 211 in 2013 to this figure of 9 at the end of 2017,” he said.
The Laois TD said the impact of the Fines legislation, which removed imprisonment as the default penalty for the non-payment of a court ordered fine, can be clearly seen in a large reduction in the number of people committed to prison.
The number of committals for the non-payment of a fine reduced from 8,439 in 2016 to 2,261 in 2017, a reduction of 73%.
This change was the main driver behind an overall reduction of 40.5% in the number of persons sent to prison from 12,579 in 2016 to 7,484 in 2017. Of those, 85.5% were male and 14.5% were female. In total there were 9,287 committals to prison during the year, a decrease of 38.5% on the 2016 total of 15,099. Excluding the fines cohort, other committals were broadly static with an increase of 1.4%.
“We must continue to ensure that violent offenders and other serious offenders are committed to prison while at the same time switching away from prison sentences and towards less costly non-custodial options for non-violent and less serious offenders. The increase in the application of the Community Service Order sanction in 2017 is very welcome in this regard," he said.
There were 2,215 Community Service Orders managed by the Probation Service in 2017 compared with 2,067 in 2016, an increase of approximately 7%. These orders totalled 336,573 hours of work, equating to over €3m of unpaid work for the benefit of communities nationwide. Women offenders represented 16.1% of all new referrals to the Probation Service in 2017 and female offenders represented 9.8% of all Community Service Orders made.
In total, 206 prisoners completed the Community Return Scheme in 2017, with a compliance rate of almost 90%. Last year saw the continued development of the Joint Agency Response to Crime (J-ARC), an interagency approach to targeting prolific and high impact offenders in order to reduce reoffending.
J-ARC was rolled out to the new areas of Waterford, Limerick and Dundalk and Youth J-ARC was also launched, targeting young people aged 16-21 years who are the most prolific offenders in their area (Gurranabraher and Mayfield in Cork and Blanchardstown in Dublin).
The Department of Justice highlighted the following key points from the two reports.
Key statistics from Prison Service Annual Report (excluding fines)
· numbers committed under sentence has increased by 52 or 1.4% from 3,724 in 2016 to 3,776 in 2017.
· numbers committed under sentence of < 3 months has decreased by 8 or 1.7% from 468 in 2016 to 460 in 2017.
· numbers committed under sentence of 3 to < 6 months has increased by 245 or 23.3% from 1,050 in 2016 to 1,295 in 2017.
· numbers committed under sentence of 6 to < 12 months has decreased by 155 or 14.9% from 1,039 in 2016 to 884 in 2017.
· numbers committed on sentences of 1 to < 2 years has increased by 51 or 17.3% from 295 in 2016 to 346 in 2017.
· numbers committed on sentences of 2 to < 3 years has increased by 9 or 3.1% from 290 in 2016 to 299 in 2017.
· numbers committed on sentences of 3 to less than 5 years has decreased by 68 or 19.8% in 2016 to 276 in 2017.
· numbers committed on sentences of 5 to less than 10 years has decreased by 16 or 8.7% in 2016 to 167 in 2017.
· numbers committed on sentences of 10 years plus has decreased by 12 or 31% in 2016 to 27 in 2017.
· numbers committed on a Life sentence has increased by 6 or 37.5% in 2016 to 22 in 2017.
Key statistics from Probation Service Annual Report
· The Probation Service dealt with over 15,000 offenders in the community and 2,930 offenders in prison.
· There were 2,215 Community Service Orders made in 2017 compared with 2,067 in 2016.
· The 336,573 hours of community service performed in 2017 amounts to an alternative of 973 years of custodial sentencing.
· The Community Return Scheme has a compliance rate of almost 90%.
· 206 prisoners completed the Community Return Scheme in 2017.
· The Probation Service completed 13,722 reports for Court in 2017.
· The Probation Service provided 27 Victim Impact Reports in 2017.
· The majority of new referrals to the Probation Service were 18-24 year olds (2,604) and 25-34 year olds (3,109).
· 16.1% of all new referrals were female (16.6% in 2016, 15.2% in 2015 and 14.8% in 2014).
· The Probation Service supervised 572 juvenile offenders in 2017.