Ireland is sending too many people to prison for minor crimes, according to the Irish Penal Reform Trust.
The campaign group is today publishing its latest Progress in the Penal System (PIPS) report – which considers changes in the system over the past five years.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, IPRT Deputy Director Molly Joyce said the report suggests Irish judges are still too quick to send people to jail for minor crimes.
“What we have identified is a continued use of prison in response to less serious offences,” she said.
“We can continue to see over the past five years, a continued handing down of short sentences - by short sentences I mean sentences under 12 months - which would be given in response to less serious types of offending.”
She said the sentences are being handed down despite legislation requiring judges to “consider community sanction in situations where they are going to give a sentence of less than 12 months”.
“Unfortunately, despite the legislation and despite the requirement […] it doesn’t appear to be having an actual impact on the ground because we continue to see very high numbers of people under sentences of 12 months being committed to our prisons,” she said.
“That is a concern because we don’t understand why that is happening and there is no real data or information available to explain that.”
Ms Joyce said a perception among the public that Ireland is weak on sentencing is partly because the cases that make it into the media tend to be “high profile, serious types of offences”.
“What we are talking about is the daily cases that go before the District Court and they don’t often get a lot of attention in the media so people don’t really see or understand what is actually happening on a daily basis,” she said. “They are only thinking about those more serious offences that get a lot of attention.”
She said the Sentencing Guidelines and Information Committee, which was set up in 2020, will have a really important role in setting sentencing guidelines and explaining them to the public.
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