A key feature of the imprisonment of women in Ireland is that the rate of imprisonment is growing, and that sentences tend to be short. Historically, the subject of the imprisonment of women in Ireland was neglected, and the first purpose-built prison for women was not constructed until 1999. More recently, increasing levels of overcrowding in the two prisons for women in Ireland and deteriorating conditions have given rise to concerns about the treatment of women in prison and the need to increase resort to alternatives to custody. The statutory agencies in charge of prisons and probation in Ireland have, however, recently published a joint strategy aimed at addressing some of these issues.
Ireland has a history of detaining women in institutions outside the formal criminal justice system, particularly where the women involved had children outside of marriage or were deemed to have offended the moral codes of a conservative society in some way. That history, which is only now coming to light and being come to terms with in Ireland, must be acknowledged, but it does not constitute the subject of this report.
INTERNATIONAL AND DOMESTIC HUMAN RIGHTS FRAMEWORK
Ireland is a member of the United Nations (since 1955), was a founding member of the Council of Europe (in 1949) and is a member of the European Union (since 1973). Ireland became a contracting party to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on 23 December 1985, and to the United Nations Optional Protocol to CEDAW on 7 September 2000. No reservations have been entered by Ireland to these Conventions. Ireland is a dualist country.
Ireland is not a party to the Council of Europe's Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. While domestic violence against women has been considered under Ireland's reporting requirements arising from CEDAW, and Ireland has a National Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Investigation Unit within the police force, the issue of factors leading to women's involvement in crime and those leading to their imprisonment have yet to be addressed specifically.
The Irish Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann), dating from 1937, also contains enumerated and unenumerated rights.