The Inspector of Prisons has called for a new courts system which would address the causes of criminality rather than criminalise offenders, reports Cormac O'Keeffe in the Irish Examiner.
The system, called Problem Solving Justice, includes a range of courts: community courts; drug courts; domestic violence courts and mental health courts. The article quotes Judge Reilly as follows:
"...Because the emphasis is on problem-solving they bear no relation to criminal courts. They are non-adversarial. They do not by and large lead to convictions. All evaluations of such courts point to a marked decrease in low-level crime."
This system would help address the crisis facing prisons. Judge Reilly cites overcrowding as a major problem, stating that there are two simple solutions: build more prison spaces or reduce the prison population:
The judge said prison spaces should be built only if there was an actual need and "if other options are exhausted", such as the new courts and other non-custodial options, including restorative justice. He said community service orders — community sanctions supervised by the Probation Service — should be substituted for short sentences for low-level crime.
"This would have the effect of reducing the numbers in custody quite considerably."
The article also quotes Tom O'Malley (NUI Galway and ISIS) on the "very significant increase" in prison numbers over the past two years or so, which he says points to the need for an urgent examination as to what is driving this increase:
"In particular, it should motivate us to examine sentencing patterns for non-violent offences, including some drug trafficking offences, which may be attracting higher sentences than are strictly necessary at the present time."
- Irish Examiner: Inspector of Prisons calls for new courts system