Original article by Carol Coulter appeared in The Irish Times, 24th September, 2010.
BUILDING A wall around the site bought for a new prison at Thornton Hall is not a good use of public money, according to Green Senator Dan Boyle.
Mr Boyle told the Irish Penal Reform Trust conference, “Shifting Focus: From Criminal Justice to Social Justice”, it was clear that resources would not be available to build new prisons, and money should not be spent on “saving political pride” by building a wall around Thornton Hall to show there would be a prison there some time.
He was speaking during a panel discussion of Oireachtas members on how to bring about a change in emphasis in the justice system. The others panellists were Fianna Fáil TD Mary O’Rourke, Labour TD Pat Rabbitte and Sinn Fein TD Aongus Ó Snodaigh. Fine Gael was not represented.
Senator Boyle said the increase in prison numbers should not be seen as a badge of pride. Prison numbers should be reduced, and prison only used as a last resort. He criticised the “appalling double standards” whereby white collar crime goes largely unpunished.
Labour spokesman on justice Pat Rabbitte said he was open to the idea of the reallocation of some existing resources towards early intervention.
“There are no votes in penal reform,” he said. “We live in a society where crime sells newspapers, and where crime correspondents are transferred between papers like footballers, where criminals are meant to be locked up and out of sight and out of mind. God help the politician who does not agree.”
Some good things had happened, like the inter-agency co-operation in the Drug Task Forces, and this should be developed.
Mrs O’Rourke said education was the key, especially keeping young people in education until the end of the secondary cycle. While very good work had been done with home-school liaison officers at primary level, she said there needed to be close monitoring of young people at secondary level who might be in danger of offending.
“Should youth justice not be in Education?” she asked. Mr Ó Snodaigh said it was very important to progress the Bill dealing with spent convictions which is before the Dail, and which is linked to the need to integrate former prisoners into society through employment.