Saturday 23 September 2017

Jail terms under six months should be replaced with community service: report

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

PRISON sentences of less than six months imposed for non-violent offences should be commuted and replaced with community service according to a new report on penal reform.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice report has also recommended that the standard remission for prison sentences should be increased from one quarter to a third.

An "enhanced" remission scheme of up to one half should also be made available on an incentivised basis for certain categories of prisoners, particularly those serving a sentence for the very first time.

This would include provisions for "earned temporary release".

The report follows the release, last night, from prison of Dublin businessman Paul Begley who secured temporary release to begin a community return programme during the remainder of his two year sentence for a garlic tax scam.

Mr Begley has been granted permission to serve the final part of his sentence by participating in community service projects under the supervision of the probation Service."

The sub committee report, led by Labour Senator Ivana Bacik, also calls for the introduction of new laws providing for structured release, temporary release, parole and community return to address issues such as prison conditions and overcrowding.

Senator Bacik said that the sub committee, set up in September 2011, was convened to look at "end of sentence" strategies to ensure a better rehabilitation of prisoners in custody and to encourage lower recidivism or reoffending rates.

"We recommend the introduction of a decarceration strategy, focussed on non violent offenders" said Senator Bacik.

The report, launched by Oireachtas Justice committee chair David Staunton, was produced in response to a recent rapid rise in prisoner numbers and the overall imprison rate in Irish prisons.

The average daily number of prisoners in custody in Ireland is 4,275 as at December 2012.

A total of 13,952 persons were committed to prison during 2011, compared to only 9,711 in 2011.

Members of the sub committee travelled to Finland and New York to examine prison initiatives there.

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