In an article in today's The Irish Times, Jamie Smyth and Brendan Grehan report on the imprisonment of parents for failure to ensure their children attend school.
The article reports on the sentencing of a mother-of-five to 30 days in prison and a father to 15 days in prison in separate cases, at Tallaght District Court, for failing to make sure their children went to school. It cites the reaction of penal reform groups who criticised the sentences, saying prison could not address the complex issues lying behind a perceived unwillingness to support a child’s education.
The article reports that the woman was taken directly to the Dóchas Centre, and that the judge directed officers from the NEWB to notify the HSE of the situation as arrangements would have to be made for the care of the woman’s other children.
The NEWB (National Educational Welfare Board) only takes legal action against parents as a last resort. However, The Irish Times reports that the number of convictions against parents has increased since 2006. The article continues:
Up to the end of March 2010, the board issued 254 summonses in relation to 157 children. Those convicted face a fine of up to €635 or up to one month’s imprisonment or both. The NEWB said 76 of these summonses resulted in convictions and it estimates that five resulted in a jail sentence.
IPRT comments on such a use of custodial sentences in the article:
“Prison should be reserved only for the most serious offences and for those who present a threat to society,” Liam Herrick, executive director of the trust, said. “Moreover, prison cannot address the complex issues which are likely to lie behind a perceived unwillingness to support a child’s education.
"Given that holding a person in prison for 30 days costs the State around €8,000, the Irish Penal Reform Trust believes the resources would be far better spent on services which would support the family within the community.”