Pubdate: Wed, 04 Nov 1998
Date: 04/11/1998
Source: Irish Times (Ireland)
Author: Patrick Semple

Sir, - I believe the proposal of the Minister for Justice to legislate
for a mandatory sentence of 10 years for those who traffic in drugs
worth over #10,000 is a mistake.

It may be that some trafficking offences indeed warrant a sentence of
10 years; some may warrant an even longer one; but I have no doubt
that some will warrant a sentence of much less. Let me give a
hypothetical example of the latter.

A young man or woman with no involvement whatever with drugs is
approached at an airport, perhaps in Spain or England, and offered
#1,000 to carry a bag and hand it over to someone at Dublin Airport.
This young person, for one reason or another, is tempted, is caught at
Dublin Airport with the bag containing #20,000 worth of given the
mandatory sentence of 10 years.

This young offender has made a bad mistake. Their situation is such
that the money has tempted them without fully realising the
implications for others of what they have done. Yes, of course the law
must punish this person. But 10 years? After a year or two in prison
many such young people will have learned their lesson and will be
unlikely to offend again.

Surely it is not more than just to leave sentencing to judges who,
from years of experience in the courts dealing with offenders, will be
able to discern between the kind of case mentioned above and the
hardened full-time dealer who is getting rich from dealing in drugs.

Prison is supposed to be about rehabilitation as well as punishment. I
believe that a 10-year sentence in such cases as I quote above is more
likely to destroy offenders than to rehabilitate them.

- Yours, etc., (Rev) Patrick Semple, Church of Ireland Chaplain,
Mountjoy Prison, Dublin.