Thu, 05 Oct 2023

DUBLIN, Ireland: Ireland needs to build more prisons, as it runs out of space because of the country's growing population, according to Justice Minister Simon Harris.

"We've got to do two things - penal reform, yes, but we've also got to recognize that there were some really heinous crimes that do merit a longer custodial sentence than is currently the case," said Harris, as quoted by RTE.

At the same time, Harris said too many young people were being sentenced to prison for less serious crimes.

"There's absolutely a need to continue to invest in youth diversion projects, and to continue to support the probation service.

"Absolutely you need to look at community sanctions, such as community service. Much of that is underway. But even if you do all of that, I'm absolutely confident that you do need to increase prison capacity."

Harris noted that during his term as Justice Minister he has spoken to District Court judges to discuss sentencing options.

"Penal reform is a very active part of the work of the Department of Justice. ButI do get extremely frustrated when people try to reduce the conversation to prison capacity around penal reform or more capacity. In my view, you absolutely need both," Harris said.

Pointing to ongoing reforms, Harris said the parliament, the Dail, is currently reviewing sentencing for those convicted of causing harm due to assaults, a common offense brought to court. A likely change will double the maximum sentence from five years to 10 years for those found guilty.

Additionally, the government is working to increase sentences for those convicted of serious crimes.

In practical terms, this will give judges the ability to sentence prisoners to life sentences of 20, 30 or even 40 years.

Harris said such long prison terms will provide additional security to families of victims.

The government will seek to enact such sentencing proposals later this year, Harris said.

Harris has temporarily replaced Helen McEntee as Minister of Justice during her maternity leave. He will step down shortly when she returns.

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