'Community service is cheaper': Prison reform advocate says 'a few nights' in prison not enough to rehabilitate offenders

'Community service is cheaper': Prison reform advocate says 'a few nights' in prison not enough to rehabilitate offenders

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, was reacting to The Echo’s revelation that a number of Cork women who have been sentenced to Limerick’s female prison have not spent one night there because of lack of space.

AN advocate for prison reform says a few nights in prison is not enough to rehabilitate offenders.

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, was reacting to The Echo’s revelation that a number of Cork women who have been sentenced to Limerick’s female prison have not spent one night there because of lack of space.

The Echo revealed that others have been released after just two or three nights because of space issues.

Ms Ní Chinnéide said the agency is concerned to see a “continued reliance on prison” for less serious offences, particularly during the pandemic.

She said: “76% of sentenced committals to prison in 2019 were for sentences of less than 12 months, despite a 2011 law that requires judges to consider community service in lieu of these short sentences.

The Department of Justice announced it would review the impact of this law, including the gender impacts, earlier this year. We need to see this review published as a matter of urgency, with any recommendations stemming from it acted on.” 

She continued: “Community service is cheaper, less damaging, and the community gains for the unpaid work. It is a win-win for everyone.” 

She stressed that “a few nights in prison is not enough time for these women to engage in meaningful rehabilitation or to access the services needed to address the underlying causes of their offending, but a few nights in prison is just enough time for them to lose any employment, potentially lose their accommodation and for their children to be taken into care.”

She said the cost to the taxpayer for sending people to prison is much higher than the cost of a three-night stay in prison.

She added: “It simply doesn’t add up.” 

She concluded: “In recent weeks, in the Prison Chaplain Annual Reports for 2020, we read of a woman committed to the Dóchas Centre for loitering. Gaps in social policy have resulted in situations like this one being replicated across the prison estate.” 

Cork North Central Fine Gael TD Colm Burke said he has had the "revolving door" issue raised with him by solicitors in recent times, citing one case where an offender sentenced to a number of months was granted temporary release just days into his sentence.

He said a focus also needs to be put on the area of the probation services in terms of ensuring they have enough resources.

He explained: “Prison is not always the best solution. We need also to work on early intervention and diversion.”

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