Working On PIPS Over The Past 5 Years Has Made Very Clear The Lack Of Transparency: Criminology Report, UCD, Ireland

Working on PIPS over the past 5 years has made very clear the lack of transparency from key agencies in the penal system; the inadequacies and delays in respect of those bodies responsible for monitoring prisons; and the failure of the State to provide consistent, robust and publicly available data on how people who come into contact with the criminal justice system are dealt with and treated. In the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, now more than ever, this gap in information has become a major concern. Last year, PIPS 2020 focused on reviewing 12 of the 35 IPRT standards for the penal system. This 5th edition of PIPS has continued in the same direction and focuses on 13 salient standards. Unlike previous years, PIPS 2021 performs a review of the overall progress of these specific standards since the project started in 2017. Where information relating to 2021 was readily available, it was included in the review. However, IPRT did not engage in the volume of direct data requests as in previous years. Our view is that comprehensive data should be published routinely by all relevant stakeholders. Therefore, PIPS 2021 highlights key information gaps and sets data expectations for stakeholders to meet in order to address these barriers under the overarching theme of ‘the need for transparency in the penal system in Ireland’. The report further sets out four thematic areas under which the standards under review are grouped and discussed.

Chapter 1: Monitoring the Use of Imprisonment Imprisonment as a last resort should be the underlying principle of penal policy in Ireland yet there was regress in Standard 2 – Imprisonment as a last resort between 2017–2021 as people were continually sentenced to short terms of imprisonment rather than being diverted to alternative sanctions in the community. The lack of publicly available data that might help explain why the courts are choosing not to use alternative sanctions over prison sentences is concerning. Between 2017 and 2021, the lack of information about the number of people in prison experiencing mental illness, coupled with the long waiting times for prison psychology services and the consistently high numbers on the waiting list for the Central Mental Hospital (CMH), indicates no change towards meeting Standard 13 – Mental Healthcare. There was insufficient information on drug and alcohol use / treatment services in Irish prisons to make an adequate assessment of progress under Standard 14 – Drug and Alcohol Treatment. On the basis of the little information PIPS did manage to gather, however, there appeared to be no change in this standard between 2017 and 2021. There was a mix of progress and regress under Standard 32.1 – Women in Prison, with an overall reduction in the period 2018–2021 in annual committals of women as well as the daily average of women in custody. However, there continues to be a lack of information on the availability and use of gender-sensitive community sanctions, and a general lack of research on the experience of women in the criminal justice system.

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