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Ebulletin #6

28th July 2004

VOICES RISING
Volume 2, No. 7 / July 28, 2004

IN THIS ISSUE:

1)WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES: McDowell proposes fines for children, only to have the DOJ say no. Does the right hand know what the left is doing?

2)PRESENTATION AT XV INTERNATIONAL AIDS CONFERENCE, BANGKOK: Presentation on prison syringe exchange co-authored by IPRT Executive Director

3)IPRT CONFERENCE ON WOMEN, PRISON AND HUMAN RIGHTS A SUCCESS: Over 100 people attend event at Dóchas Centre for Women

4)IPRT SPEAKS ON PRISON SYRINGE EXCHANGE AT PRISONS 2004 – PRISONS AND PENAL POLICY: INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVES

5)IPRT SPEAKS ON HEPATITIS C IN PRISONS

6)INTERNATIONAL NEWS – Canada, United States and New Zealand

·Ontario sex-offender registry 'unconstitutional'
·"Felons and the Right to Vote" - Editorial from the New York Times
·New Zealand: Law prevents private prisons

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES: McDowell proposes fines for children, only to have the DOJ say no. Does the right hand know what the other is doing?

On July 5, Justice Minister McDowell was quoted in the Irish Examiner in support of extending a fixed fines system to children and young people charged with minor offences. This plan came under attack by the Juvenile Justice Alliance. The next day, the Department of Justice press office announced that, despite the Minister's comments, there was indeed no plan to extend this scheme to young people. This certainly begs the question of whether the right hand actually knows what the left is doing in the Department of Justice? Below are the press releases from the Irish Juvenile Justice Alliance.

PRESS RELEASE (6 July 2004) McDowell's plans to fine children "not in the best interests of young people" - Juvenile Justice Alliance calls upon Government to end gimmicks and fulfil its commitments under the Children Act, 2001

The Irish Juvenile Justice Alliance has today criticised Justice Minister Michael McDowell's plan to impose fines of up to €400 on children and young people charged with minor offences, saying that the scheme contradicts the principles and provisions of the Children Act, 2001.

The Irish Juvenile Justice Alliance (IJJA) is a coalition working to reform the juvenile justice system. The IJJA comprises the Children's Rights Alliance, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice and the Irish Penal Reform Trust, along with professional workers, academics, human rights activists and concerned individuals.

According to a report in yesterday's Irish Examiner, the Minister is considering a scheme that will see fixed penalty notices sent directly to children's parents as part of the new Criminal Justice Bill to be published next month. The Juvenile Justice Alliance has challenged this initiative as being in contravention of the principles and provisions of the Children Act, 2001. The Act, which is designed to provide a modern statutory framework for the Irish juvenile justice system, remains largely unimplemented three years after its passage by the Oireachtas.

"The Minister's latest initiative runs contrary to Part 4 of the Children Act, which provides for the diversion of all first time offenders who commit minor offences away from the criminal process through the successful Garda Diversion Programme," said Dr. Ursula Kilkelly of the Irish Penal Reform Trust. "His proposal also runs contrary to the main approach of the Act, which is designed to help families and young people find their own solutions to the young person's offending behaviour through family conferencing and the development of court directed action plans."

The Minister's statement that "fixed penalties could have a very good effect" because "if a 17-year-old receives a letter at home all hell will break loose" was strongly disputed by the IJJA.

Rather than supporting the many positive and constructive processes provided for in the Children Act, the Minister's proposals will encourage conflict, rather than problem solving, between children and their parents. This is unhelpful, unconstructive and fails to address the problems at the centre of the young person's offending behaviour," said Aisling Reidy of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. "The Minister misses the point that it is not the purpose of a criminal justice system to pit parents against their children and create family disputes. Where the family is to be involved in addressing the behaviour of children of that family, it should be in a constructive manner."

The IJJA is also concerned about the impact of imposing fixed fines on families of low income, stating that the plan would entrench a two-tiered, economically discriminatory approach to youth justice where the children of families with adequate financial means would be able to avoid court by paying a fine, while children from families on low incomes would not.

The IJJA also pointed out that as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which applies to all children and young people under the age of eighteen, Ireland is obliged to ensure that "in all actions concerning children.. the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration".

Furthermore, under the Convention every child or young person accused of a crime has a right to be treated in a manner which promotes his or her sense of dignity and worth, which reinforces respect for the human rights of others, and which will help the child assume a constructive role in society. The Alliance says it is hard to see how the Minister's proposal meets the requirements of the Convention.

Said Maria Corbett of Children's Rights Alliance, "If the Minister truly wants to take positive action on juvenile offending, he should be working to fully implement and fully resource the provisions of the Children Act, 2001. Anything less is simply an unnecessary distraction from the work to develop and implement real and effective responses."

PRESS RELEASE (7 July 2004) Juvenile Justice Alliance welcomes commitment against fines for children - Department of Justice confirms Minister's plans now off the table

The Irish Juvenile Justice Alliance has welcomed an announcement from the Department of Justice that provisions for imposing fixed penalties of up to €400 on children and young people charged with minor offences will not form part of the new Criminal Justice Bill.

"We very much welcome the Department's commitment not to pursue the ill-conceived fixed penalties plan in children's cases," said Dr. Ursula Kilkelly of the of the Faculty of Law, University College Cork." We hope that this represents the renewal of a commitment by the Government to the full implementation and resourcing of the Children Act, 2001".

Earlier today, the Department of Justice announced, "The provision for a fixed penalty procedure for minor public order offences in the Criminal Justice Bill to be published on Thursday applies to persons 18yrs of age and over. It does not apply to persons under 18yrs of age." This statement comes only days after Justice Minister Michael McDowell voiced public support for extending this scheme to young people. Minister McDowell was quoted in Monday's Irish Examiner as saying, "I think the notion of those fixed penalties could have a very good effect. If a 17-year-old receives a letter at home all hell would break loose." These comments drew criticism from the Juvenile Justice Alliance, who said that any such plan would contradict the principles and provisions of the Children Act, 2001.

"Clearly there is a need to address issues related to youth offending," said Maria Corbett of the Children's Rights Alliance. "We hope today's announcement will put the focus where it belongs - on the urgent need to implement the many positive and constructive processes provided for in the Children Act, 2001."

PRESENTATION MADE AT XV INTERNATIONAL AIDS CONFERENCE, BANGKOK: Presentation on prison syringe exchange co-authored by IPRT Executive Director

A presentation on prison syringe exchange co-authored by IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines was presented by Glenn Betteridge at the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand on July 14. Prison Needle Exchange Progams Work: A review of international evidence and expertise by Rick Lines (Irish Penal Reform Trust); Ralf Jürgens (Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network), Thomas Kerr (Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS); Glenn Betteridge (Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network) is available online from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

 

IPRT CONFERENCE ON WOMEN, PRISON AND HUMAN RIGHTS A SUCCESS: Over 100 people attend event at Dóchas Centre for Women

On June 30th over 100 people attended Sisters Inside, the IPRT's conference on women and prison, held at the Dóchas Centre for Women.  Speaking at the conference was Kim Pate, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, and Ivana Bacik, Reid Professor of Law at Trinity College Dublin.  The conference proceedings were opened by John Lonnergan, Governor of Mountjoy Prison. Unfortunately our third guest speaker, Debbie Kilroy from Australia, was unable to attend at the last minute. 

We were very pleased that the conference partcipants included over 30 women prisoners held in the Centre. Our thanks to our guest speakers, Governor Kathleen McMahon and the staff at the Dóchas Centre and all those who attended the event for making the conference such a success.

IPRT SPEAKS ON PRISON SYRINGE EXCHANGE AT PRISONS 2004 - PRISONS AND PENAL POLICY: INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVES

On June 25th, IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines conducted a presentation on "Prison Syringe Exchange: A Review of International Evidence and Experience" at the conference Prisons 2004 - Prisons and Penal Policy: International Perspectives at City University, London.

IPRT SPEAKS ON HEPATITIS C IN PRISONS

On July 1st, IRPT Executive Director Rick Lines spoke on the issue of hepatitis C in prisons at the Second Annual Hepatitis C Awareness Day, a day-long public event in Dublin organised by the Blood-Borne Virus Forum.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS - CANADA: Ontario sex-offender registry 'unconstitutional'

KITCHENER, Ont. - An Ontario provincial-court judge has found the law governing the province's sex offender registry is too broad and, therefore, unconstitutional.

Christopher's Law, as it is known, requires anyone convicted of a sex offence to register with his or her local police force every year, as long as they live in Ontario.

Police wanted the registry, saying lives could be saved if they had speedy access to the names and addresses of known sex offenders.

But Justice Gary Hearn, presiding over the law's first constitutional challenge in Kitchener, said it deprived offenders of their right to liberty and security, no matter how laudable its goal. In a written decision released in Ontario Court, he said the law is offence-oriented, requiring everyone convicted of a sex offence to register, regardless of the crime committed.

Hearn said offenders have no way of disputing their inclusion on the registry, or arguing that they should be removed from it, meaning the law lacks fundamental procedures giving people the right to a hearing.

Stephen Gehl, the lawyer who launched the challenge, said, for example, a man convicted of patting a woman on the bum would be put in the same category as a dangerous pedophile. He argued people should be included on the registry only if they are high-risk or violent offenders.

The registry was created in April 2001, eight years after being recommended by a Brampton coroner's inquest into the sex assault and murder of 11-year-old Christopher Stephenson. Several other provinces have followed Ontario's lead by creating their own registry. In December 2002, Ottawa passed legislation to create a national registry.

It isn't yet clear what the implications of Hearn's ruling will be. Decisions by provincial court judges are not binding on other Ontario judges.

Copyright © 2004 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation - All Rights Reserved

INTERNATIONAL NEWS - USA: "Felons and the Right to Vote" - Editorial from the New York Times

About 4.7 million Americans, more than 2 percent of the adult population, are barred from voting because of a felony conviction. Denying the vote to ex-offenders is antidemocratic, and undermines the nation's commitment to rehabilitating people who have paid their debt to society. Felon disenfranchisement laws also have a sizable racial impact: 13 percent of black men have had their votes taken away, seven times the national average. But even if it were acceptable as policy, denying felons the vote has been a disaster because of the chaotic and partisan way it has been carried out.

Thirty-five states prohibit at least some people from voting after they have been released from prison. The rules about which felonies are covered and when the right to vote is restored vary widely from state to state, and often defy logic. In four states, including New York, felons on parole cannot vote, but felons on probation can. In some states, felons must formally apply for restoration of their voting rights, which state officials can grant or deny on the most arbitrary of grounds.

Florida may have changed the outcome of the 2000 presidential election when Secretary of State Katherine Harris oversaw a purge of suspected felons that removed an untold number of eligible voters from the rolls. This year, state officials are conducting a new purge that may be just as flawed. They have developed a list of 47,000 voters who may be felons, and have asked local officials to consider purging them. But The Miami Herald found that more than 2,100 of them may have been listed in error, because their voting rights were restored by the
state's clemency process. Last week, the state acknowledged that 1,600 of those on the list should be allowed to vote.

Election officials are also far too secretive about felon voting issues, which should be a matter of public record. When Ms. Harris used inaccurate standards for purging voters, the public did not find out until it was too late. This year, the state tried to keep the 47,000 names on its list of possible felons secret, but fortunately a state court ruled this month that they should be open to scrutiny.

There is a stunning lack of information and transparency surrounding felon isenfranchisement across the country. The rules are often highly technical, and little effort is made to explain them to election officials or to the people affected. In New York, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School found that local elections offices often did not understand the law, and some demanded that felons produce documents that do not exist.

Too often, felon voting is seen as a partisan issue. In state legislatures, it is usually Democrats who try to restore voting rights, and Republicans who resist. Recently, Republicans and election officials in Missouri and South Dakota have raised questions about voter registration groups' employment of ex-felons, although they have every right to be involved in political activity. In Florida, the decision about whether a felon's right to vote will be restored lies with a panel made up of the governor and members of his cabinet. Some voting rights activists believe that Gov. Jeb Bush has moved slowly, and reinstated voting rights for few of the state's ex-felons, to help President Bush's re-election prospects.

The treatment of former felons in the electoral system cries out for reform. The cleanest and fairest approach would be simply to remove the prohibitions on felon voting. In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush announced a new national commitment to helping prisoners re-enter society. Denying them the right to vote belies this commitment.

Restoring the vote to felons is difficult, because it must be done state by state, and because ex-convicts do not have much of a political lobby. There have been legislative successes in recent years in some places, including Alabama and Nevada. But other states have been moving in the opposite direction. The best hope of reform may lie in the courts. The Atlanta-based United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and the San Francisco-based Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit have ruled recently that disenfranchising felons may violate equal protection or the Voting Rights Act.

Until the whole idea of permanently depriving felons of their right to vote is wiped away, the current rules should be applied more fairly. The quality of voting roll purges must be improved. Florida should discontinue its current felon purge until it can prove that the list it is using is accurate.

Mechanisms for restoring voting rights to felons must be improved. Even in states where felons have the right to vote, they are rarely notified of this when they exit prison. Released prisoners should be given that information during the discharge process, and helped with the paperwork.

The process for felons to regain their voting rights should be streamlined. In Nevada, early reports are that the restoration of felon voting rights has had minimal effect, because the paperwork requirements are too burdensome. Ex-felons who apply to vote should have the same presumption of eligibility as other voters.

Voting rights should not be a political football. There should be bipartisan support for efforts to help ex-felons get their voting rights back, by legislators and by state and local election officials. American democracy is diminished when officeholders and political parties, for their own political gain, try to keep people from voting.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

INTERNATIONAL NEWS - NEW ZEALAND: Law prevents private prisons

New Zealand's parliament voted 62-53 in May 2004 to pass legislation that prevents future prison privatisation. The Labour, Green and Progressive parties voted for a clause in the Corrections Bill that prohibits GEO Group's existing contract for the Auckland Central Remand Prison (ACRP) from being renewed when it expires in 2005 and requiring all prisons to be managed by the government. Opposition parties have argued that there is no justification for ACRP to be taken over by the state. 

Meanwhile, a new group has been formed to lobby for greater private sector involvement in owning, building and operating New Zealand's infrastructure and services. The New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development includes Macquarie Bank, construction firms Fulton Hogan and Stevenson and law firm Bell Gully and will advocate for public private partnerships and for changes to laws that stand in their way.

By Stephen Nathan, Prison Privatisation Report International (No. 63, July 2004)