Minimum life sentences “put the cart before the horse” – IPRT

The Irish Penal Reform Trust said plans for minimum rates for life sentences “put the cart before the horse”.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee has revealed that judges will be able to set minimum sentences of up to 30 years for the most serious crimes.

As part of plans due to be presented in the coming weeks, she also wants fewer petty offenders to go to jail.

Saoirse Brady is Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust.

She said Newstalk breakfast prison shouldn’t just be about punishment.

“A person serving a life sentence will know that they will serve at least 12 years.

“On top of that, I guess they don’t know how long they could serve, so it might provide some certainty for both the victims and the person in prison themselves.

“But what I would say is that we’re kind of putting the cart before the horse here.

“We need to get back to the purpose of sentencing; and the IPRT would really like a wider public debate on sentencing.

“But we need principles for sentencing.

“Sentencing is sometimes about punishments, it’s about deterrence, but it’s also about reform and rehabilitation.

“And we know that people can and do change – we see progress made by people in prison.

“So we would need to incorporate critiques for that progress, I think.”

But she said they welcome the proposals for community sentencing for minor offences.

“What we see very often is people going to jail for 12 months or less, when that may not be proportionate or the appropriate response.

“A lot of times we know that people who end up in jail have social issues – they end up there because of homelessness, mental health issues, addictions.

“And we really need to have comprehensive services for them and allow them to serve their sentence in the community.

“It’s not just good for the person themselves…it’s more profitable for the taxpayer.

“A place in prison costs around €80,000, a community supervision order will cost around €6,000 or less”.

Main image: A man in prison in May 2012. Photo by: Gerrit de Heus / Alamy Stock Photo