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Sinn Féin advocates alternatives to imprisonment for many young offenders

12 October, 2006

Responding to the findings of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee on the costs of keeping young offenders in a detention centre in Finglas Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said often community sanctions prove to be both cheaper and more effective.

"It is time that this government thought beyond the narrow, often populist, solution of simply locking young offenders up. At times custodial sentences are necessary but often a community sanction would be both cheaper and more effective. Countries such as Finland have successfully made use of alternatives to custody for young offenders thereby decreasing the numbers in custody and also reducing rates of re-offending. One of England's top Judges Chief Justice Phillips stated this week that community sentences are not soft and he blamed the media for negatively driving the public's views on sentencing. He said 'I have witnessed community payback and drug treatment courses. I believe they offer a better chance of preventing re-offending than short spells of imprisonment.'

"Detention at an early age often condemns a young person to a life of repeat offending. Sinn Féin advocates well managed, early and targeted interventions to prevent children becoming involved in criminal behaviour and to divert them out of the criminal justice system where possible through Community Restorative Justice schemes like those in Tallaght and Nenagh and through the diversionary mechanisms and alternative community-based sanctions provided for by the Children Act 2001. Unfortunately the government have introduced the counterproductive and ineffective Anti-Social Behaviour Orders gimmick here, which have been proven in Britain to fast track children into prisons.

"The Whittaker Report on St Patrick's Institution published over 10 years ago demanded the closure of the institution. It is disgraceful that children are still being held in St. Pats when we heard yesterday that newer units in Lusk and Trinity House lie empty. I am calling on the Minister to close St. Patrick's Institution and in the interim to make use of all existing units so that as many children as possible may be immediately transferred out of St. Pat's." ENDS

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