Prison alternative urged for women
Women who are convicted of petty crimes should be spared jail and given alternative punishments, campaigners have claimed.
Homeless charity Depaul Ireland said community sentencing, compulsory education and substance abuse programmes should be handed down to women, particularly mothers, involved in low level offences.
Kerry Anthony, chief executive, said women are often imprisoned for petty crimes and drug related criminal activity.
She said: "Over the past 10 years women's imprisonment in Ireland has radically changed, with the numbers of women imprisoned in Ireland almost doubling in the last decade. Overcrowding in Irish prisons is a major issue and Depaul Ireland supports the consideration of alternative approaches to imprisonment for less serious crimes.
"The impact of imprisonment on women not only affects the woman herself but also her family and children. Children of women prisoners are disproportionately affected by the loss of their mothers."
The number of female inmates soared from 923 in 2001 to 1,902 a decade on. At the moment there are 128 in the Dochas Centre in Dublin and 31 in Limerick. Depaul Ireland runs Tus Nua, a residential service for women leaving prison who need help rebuilding their lives and reintegrating into society.
It maintains many come from backgrounds of domestic violence, exploitation, sexual abuse, mental illness, institutionalisation and social exclusion, with jail further deepening their already fragile lives.
Ms Anthony said: "They have complex physical and mental health needs and are more likely to self-harm than male prisoners. In this context, we see several diversions available to the judiciary when considering the sentencing of women.
"By better use of community sentencing, alternatives to custody and compulsory education and substance abuse programmes women entering the criminal justice system could be given encouragement and support to find their own inner strengths and hopes to progress their lives, and indeed the lives of their children, in a lasting and positive way."
The charity is marking International World Women's Day with a seminar. Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly and a senior probation officer will be among those attending at the Wood Quay Venue in Dublin City Council civic offices.