The IPRT recently launched its Position Paper Women in the Criminal Justice System: Towards a Non-Custodial Approach.
The key issues include:
- The number of women in the Irish prison population is increasing. Most of these women are imprisoned for short periods of time.
- This increase in numbers has led to severe over-crowding.
- Remand is over-used for women offenders. Chaotic lifestyles often characterised by deprivation render many women unable to adhere to bail conditions, or provide addresses. Over-use of remand has very serious implications for childcare and housing.
- There is no Mother and Baby Unit available in Ireland for women prisoners.
- A lack of ‘step-down’ facilities means that many women leave prison without support, and the recidivism rate reflects this lack of assistance.
- The trend in the UK, on foot of the Corston Report, towards non-custodial alternatives is instructive. The Irish Inspector of Prisons has highlighted this need, referencing the ‘Bangkok Rules’.
- IPRT support the ‘one-stop-shop’ approach to supporting women offenders in the community, an approach adopted in the UK and evident in a variety centres there. The IPRT highlight the efforts of the Tus Nua project which provides supported housing to women leaving the Dóchas Centre.
The IPRT recommend:
- that a non-custodial approach should be adopted for women offenders;
- in the few cases where prison is necessary, the negative impact of imprisonment on the women and those they care for should be minimised.
The IPRT Position Paper comes in a week when the Inspector of Prisons has released his Interim Report on the Dóchas Centre which makes many of the same recommendations regarding supported release and community assistance, as well as voicing a strong criticism of the overcrowding in the Centre.
Read the IPRT report here.