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Ó Snodaigh calls for comprehensive penal reform

16 May, 2003


Speaking in the course of the Second Stage debate on the Temporary Release of Prisoners Bill 2001 Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh said:

"The colossal cost of imprisonment has been in the headlines lately in the form of the controversy over prison officers overtime. In fact, it illustrates the pressing need to begin the process of systematically identifying and examining high cost, low-social yield policies and changing them to more socially and economically effective ones. This Bill does not achieve this by any stretch of the imagination. We desperately need comprehensive penal reform legislation.

"Despite having one of the lowest crime rates in Europe, Ireland has one of the highest recidivism rates of 89%, and our prison population has increased by 50% since the mid-1990s. Our prison system has become swollen to gigantic proportions by the over incarceration of non-violent prisoners serving short sentences for minor offences. This system, which has been condemned for low standards and is one of the most expensive in the world at almost €65,000 per prisoner per year, is not rehabilitating prisoners. We need to ask ourselves - should many of these offenders be there at all?

"When I asked the Minister his opinion about the rate of over incarceration in this state, following on from his public comments recognising the inherent class bias in the present system, he replied that this was not his jurisdiction, but rather the jurisdiction of the courts. Well, it is our collective responsibility as legislators to ensure that the law provides the right direction to the courts regarding the use of imprisonment - and to take action to prevent its overuse and its abuse. Such as was recently in a case I highlighted to the Minister, where a 40 year old unemployed man was imprisoned for his failure to understand that he needed to pay a €12 dog licence. That is not justice. The system failed this man, and he deserves an apology." ENDS

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