We have responsibility for the Strategic Review of Penal Policy and for driving the implementation of the recommendations on penal reform of the Penal Policy Review Group.  Further information on the Strategic Review, its recommendations and implementation progress reports can be found on the Penal Policy Review page.

The aim of our penal policy is to make Ireland a safer and fairer place.

While punishment for those who commit crime is a central element of our justice system the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders is at the core of our penal system. This is the best way to achieve a reduction in re-offending.

To do this we work with the key agencies involved - the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service

In conjunction with the Irish Prison Service and Probation Service, the Department have developed a Social Enterprise and Employment Strategy - 'Working to Change' to increase the employment options for people who have criminal records.


Working to Change – The Department’s Social Enterprise & Employment Strategy 2021-2023 

“Working to Change” is the Department’s social enterprise and employment strategy for 2021 – 2023.

We know that people with education and training, who are in work, are less likely to offend and are more likely to make a contribution to their communities. However, having a criminal record poses many challenges to securing employment regardless of how long it has been since the last conviction.

The Department is therefore taking a lead on actions designed to address this which will be delivered in partnership with the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service and in collaboration with other Government Departments. The strategy, available to view here:  "Working to Change” Social Enterprise and Employment Strategy 2021 – 2023, sets out ambitious targets to increase the employment options for people who have criminal records and builds on a strong foundation of supports already in existence.

While the overarching theme of Working to Change is increasing access to employment opportunities for people with criminal convictions, it sets out a total of 46 inter-connected actions under three strategic areas of focus:

  1. social enterprise employment options;
  2. general employment options and; 
  3. entrepreneurship. 

The Department has published a discussion paper on Prisoner Population and Trends. You can find out more here.

A recent study  A Review of Drug and Alcohol Treatment Services for Adult Offenders in Prison and in the Community has also been published.

We provide advice to the Minister on penal matters and are responsible for Ministerial appointments to:


We also liaise with the Office of the Inspector of Prisons.


Restorative Justice

Restorative justice as a criminal justice process has been shown to help victims recover from crime, reduce reoffending and save public resources. It is now widely accepted that restorative justice is compatible with the traditional criminal justice systems of both common law and civil law jurisdictions. As part of the Department’s commitment to furthering the availability and accessibility of restorative justice to all victims and offenders  funding has been provided for the development of a Restorative Justice website which can be accessed here  www.restorativejustice.ie.

The website contains a range of new resources, including the initial findings of a mapping exercise on restorative justice services in Irish Criminal Justice contexts.. It also contains information on the profiles of criminal justice services and agencies that deliver restorative justice or use restorative approaches in their work, and of bodies and networks that support restorative practitioners. A range of case studies is also available which illustrate the use of restorative justice and restorative practices.  The website also contains information about the levels of training in, and delivery of, restorative justice in Ireland.


High Level Taskforce to consider the mental health and additional challenges of persons interacting with the criminal justice system

On 2 April 2021, the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee T.D.,  Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly T.D.,  Minister of State with Responsibility for Mental Health and Older people Mary Butler T.D. and Minister of State for Public Health, Wellbeing and National Drugs Strategy, Frank Feighan T.D., announced the establishment of a new High Level Taskforce to consider the mental health and addiction challenges of persons interacting with the criminal justice system, following approval by Cabinet.

The establishment of the Taskforce is further to the Government’s commitment to ensure the critical mental health needs for people in prison are met, addiction treatments are provided and primary care support is available on release, in order to ensure improved outcomes for individuals and for society.

The Taskforce membership will include representatives from a wide cross-section of health agencies and the Justice sector as well as from relevant stakeholders, including the HSE, Central Mental Hospital, the Irish Prison Service, the Probation Service, An Garda Síochána, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.  The Taskforce will also consult with other relevant stakeholders, as required, such as the Mental Health Commission, Inspector of Prisons, Prison Visiting Committees, Irish Penal Reform Trust and academia. The Task Force will provide a progress report to the Ministers in the third quarter of 2021 and the intention is for a High Level Implementation Plan to be delivered by the end of 2021.

The following terms of reference have been agreed:

  1. To assess how best to take forward the recommendations from the first and second reports of the Inter Departmental Group to examine issues relating to people with mental health issues coming into contact with the criminal justice system.
  2. To consult with stakeholders and consider relevant reports, proposals, recommendations and strategic actions including, but not limited to, the recommendations of the Council of Europe Commission on the Prevention of Torture reports and the ongoing work of the Steering Group on the Health Needs Assessment underway in the Irish Prison Service, with a view to identifying any additional actions relating to people with mental health challenges or a dual diagnosis of mental health and drug or alcohol addiction challenges who come into contact with the criminal justice system that may be necessary.
  3. To prepare a High Level Implementation Plan by end of 2021 outlining lead responsibilities and timelines for any actions identified in (i) and (ii) with operational subgroups being set up as necessary.
  4. Report on implementation periodically to relevant Ministers and Ministers of State.


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