Better sentencing


Since 2007 the average daily number of prisoners in Irish jails has increased by one-third to 4,390 in 2011. The expanding size of the prison population, where the average annual cost for each inmate is €65,359, raises some obvious questions.

These relate not only to the cost of detention, but also to the relative effectiveness of custodial and non-custodial sentences in punishing crime, and in rehabilitating offenders. When the courts apply non-custodial sanctions, offenders serve probation orders or community service orders, often as an alternative to a prison sentence.

The results of a research study by the Probation Service and the Central Statistics Office (CSO) – the first of its kind – have provided valuable data that has important implications for sentencing policy. The study tracked rates of re-offending among those who had served non-custodial sentences. Almost two-thirds of offenders, who had received such a sentence in 2007, had not reoffended two years later. The overall reconviction rate was 37 per cent. Public order was the most common original offence, and offenders in this category also had the highest rate of reconviction. Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has welcomed the study’s “positive assessment of the effectiveness of non-custodial sanctions”.

This approach has limitations: it is not a substitute for custodial sentences where offenders have committed serious crimes. Nevertheless, this study has shown its effectiveness as an alternative sentencing option. And that provides a basis for judges to reassess sentencing policy.

Earlier research – based on statistics from 2001 to 2004 – served to reinforce the effectiveness of non-custodial sentencing, where possible. In that survey one-fifth of those who had served a prison sentence were back in prison within one year, having reoffended, rising to 40 per cent within four years. An approach that keeps offenders out of jail where possible, reduces the prison bill and offers a more effective form of rehabilitation for offenders has much to recommend it.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Screen Name Selection


Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.