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Letter to the Editor: Fine Gael's crime policy a failure

7th December 2003

To The Editor:

Leave it to Fine Gael to adopt a failed and discredited policy as their "new offensive" on crime (Fine Gael wants automatic jail for street crimes, Nov 23rd).  In promoting mandatory minimum sentencing in Ireland, Fine Gael Justice Spokesperson John Deasy exposes himself as dangerously out of touch with modern evidence on crime and sentencing policy.

Given Mr. Deasy's often-touted experience working in the US Congress, one would be forgiven for assuming him to be at least somewhat familiar with the impact of mandatory sentencing in that country, yet this is apparently not the case.  Even a brief search of the internet would provide Mr. Deasy with ample evidence of the failure of mandatory minimum sentences in the US.  Indeed, mandatory minimum sentences have proved a dramatic failure at reducing crime and drug use, yet a dramatic success in filling prisons with non-violent offenders at great financial and social cost to society at large.

This evidence of failure led even the conservative Rand Corporation think-tank to conclude in 1997 that "Mandatory minimum sentences are not justifiable on the basis of cost effectiveness at reducing cocaine consumption or drug-related crime." More recently, in August this year, US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy stated, "I can accept neither the necessity nor the wisdom of federal mandatory minimum sentences. In too many cases, mandatory minimum sentences are unwise or unjust."  Indeed, many US states are now moving to repeal mandatory minimum sentencing laws in the face of the mounting evidence of failure, and mounting cost of expanding prison populations.

It is certainly ironic that the party that presents itself as a future government can offer us nothing better than recycled justice policy failures of 20 years ago.

Rick Lines
Executive Director
Irish Penal Reform Trust

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