An editorial in The Irish Times today calls for sentence reform, a greater use of community service orders, and the development of restorative justice.
"On occasion, popular policies are simply wrong. The practice of locking people up for relatively minor offences has been hugely expensive and largely counter-productive. Successive governments made the slogan “tough on crime” a rallying cry for their supporters, even as drug bosses grew more powerful and white-collar crime became more sophisticated. The result is a grossly overcrowded and increasingly dangerous prison system and a sentencing regime that requires immediate reform."
The editorial outlines the threat that overcrowding presents, and states that the courts are sending an increasing number of minor offenders to a prison system that lacks the capacity to accommodate them, with nearly 1,000 prisoners out on early release.
The recent departures of Governor Kathleen McMahon from the Dóchas Centre and Governor John Lonergan from Mountjoy Prison are described as having "protested in the only way open to them."
That there is a lack of joined-up action becomes clear. The mentally ill are already being dumped into prisons, at enormous public cost and without facilities for their rehabilitation - and that was before the HSE was ordered to close or refurbish a number of psychiatric institutions. Community healthcare projects are threatened. Yet, the Irish Prison Service continues to focus on increasing number of prison places, with the "planned mega-prison at Thornton Hall being held out as the Holy Grail."
The Fines Act which was passed by the Dáil in May is welcomed, but it is clear that the fines reform, in itself, will not eliminate overcrowding:
"Until the judiciary adopts the use of community service orders to a much greater extent and the Government encourages the development of restorative justice, little will change. Only serious criminals should be locked up."
We couldn't put it better ourselves.
Read the editorial in full here.