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Alternatives to prison crucial to reducing re-offending – Ó Snodaigh

6 December, 2006

Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called for a reverse of what he describes as "extreme financial wastefulness" inherent in the Government's criminal justice policy approach. Speaking on budget day in the Dáil today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said greater use should be made of alternatives to prison.

He said, "There is an urgent need, on Budget Day in particular, to debate and reverse the extreme financial wastefulness inherent to the government's ineffective criminal justice policy approach. This wastefulness is evidenced yet again today by research on recidivism rates published by the UCD Institute of Criminology which find that the majority of prisoners are serving sentences of less than three months for non-violent offences such as fine defaulting and 85% of these fine defaulters are back in prison again within four years. The research also finds that 27% of all prisoners are back in jail within a year of their release all at a huge cost to the state.

"According to the Irish Prison Service's annual report the number of people in detention for violent offences has decreased while those detained for lesser non-violent offences has increased. A quarter of all those sentenced for 6 months or less are in prison for the non-payment of fines. The cost of keeping those people in prison is on average €45,000 while a 6 month community service order under the supervision of the Probation and Welfare Service would cost just €1,500. If we want to seriously address the costs of keeping people in prisons we must look seriously at ensuring alternative sentencing options are available for non-violent offenders. The current Government has starved the Probation and Welfare Service of resources because their preferred route is to simplistically lock up their problems.

"The only conclusion to be drawn from all of this is that greater use should be made of alternatives to prison which are more effective in terms of the ultimate goal of reducing re-offending and which are also much cheaper to administer. The Probation and Welfare Service must be properly resourced to deal with this increased demand." ENDS

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