Reforms to reduce reliance on custodial sentences and set minimum tariffs for life sentences will help keep Kildare communities safe, a Fine Gael Kildare South TD and Minister of State Martin Heydon has said.

Minister Heydon said: “I welcome this week’s Cabinet approval of the Review of Policy Options for Prison and Penal Reform 2022-2024, which is aimed at creating safer communities in Kildare.

“A priority identified in the plan is introducing judicial discretion to set minimum tariffs for life sentences in very heinous cases. A prisoner serving a life sentence can apply for parole after 12 years under current arrangements.

“While most prisoners on life sentences serve much longer than 12 years, this reform will give victims and people in Kildare more confidence that in the most heinous murder cases, judges will have the discretion to set a minimum sentence.

“Under the proposal, judges would have to consider aggravating and mitigating circumstances. In practice, it could mean that a judge decides to impose a life sentence and stipulate that a minimum of 20, 25, or 30 years must be served.

“I strongly believe that the sentence handed down must match the crime. That is why I strongly support new laws proposed by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to double the maximum prison sentence for assault causing harm from 5 years to 10 years, and to increase the maximum sentence for conspiracy to murder from ten years to life. These changes, together with our plans to continue to increase Gardaí numbers and visibility, will ensure that we build stronger, safer communities.

“Another aspect of the review is reducing the use of short custodial sentences, especially sentences under three months, and exploring how the judiciary can be provided with a greater range of non-custodial sanctions.

“The plan will examine developing and expanding the range of community-based sanctions, including alternatives to imprisonment to reduce re-offending, and overcrowding in prisons.

“I commend Minister McEntee for her ongoing work and commitment on prison and penal reform and having a coherent approach which is victim centred, as well as enhancing and sustaining a more just and safe society.

“Fine Gael is the party of law and order and our mission is to build stronger, safer communities in Kildare and throughout the country. This involves having a penal system that is fit for purpose and requires significant investment in An Garda Síochána and crime prevention strategies.”