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Community courts can play a role in our criminal justice system

28th June 2010

This appeared in The Irish Times on Monday June 28

Why should people who, because of mental health issues, drug addiction, poverty, personality disorder or other deficiency, have to wait until they are in the current criminal justice system to get help? This article outlines how both the number of criminal offences and prison population can be reduced.

In practical terms, what does prison achieve? The major advantage of prison as far as the ordinary person in the street is concerned is that the offender will be taken out of circulation for a short defined period, and during this time s/he will not be a nuisance to society.

Prison overcrowding will not effectively tackle the problems that those victims of low level crime face. Restorative justice initiatives such as the introduction of a community court could help alleviate overcrowding, tackle recidivism rates and help protect society from the perpetrators of crime. Problem-solving courts would never replace the existing courts as we know them, but would complement such services. The emphasis is on immediate intervention.

Experience from other jurisdictions would suggest that if a community court such as is suggested in the report of the National Crime Council were to be established, it could deal with approximately 40 new cases a day, in addition to the regular review of many cases and other issues that would arise.

The use of a problem solving focus to crime prevention allows large number to be processed each day all evaluations of such services point to a marked decrease in low- level crime in the areas covered by such courts. 

This is an excerpt from a speech Judge Michael Reilly gave to the White Paper on Crime Consultation seminar Criminal Sanctions last month in Dublin Castle. To access the full document click here