Pubdate: Sat, 23 May 1998 Date: 05/23/1998 Source: Irish Times (Ireland) Author: Patrick O'Dea Sir, - The crime panic has passed. The Justice Minister's strategy of "populist punitiveness" seems dated, a year on. A largely unnecessary prison building programme and a de facto moratorium on provision for community based sanctions (non-custodial), have been the major elements of our Celtic version of "Zero Tolerance". The Minister promised 2,000 prison places without explanation as to how this figure was determined. This contrasts with the Rainbow Coalition's estimate in 1997 of a need for 840 prison places and in the Department of Justice's publication "Tackling Crime" (1997) an estimate of a need for 500/600 or at maximum 800. To understate, these projections are fallible and public safety as a dividend is unlikely. Furthermore, the Minister has not chosen to put in adequate structures of rehabilitation. Sex and drug treatment programmes, where they exist, are wholly inadequate. Meanwhile the Probation and Welfare service has to undertake its mission starved of the investment capacity to deliver it. This branch demands a moratorium on additional prison places (1,200 are already contracted) and a transfer of finance to properly resourced community-based alternatives, as advocated by NESC, Whittaker and the Law Reform Commission. The probation process, within well-structured programmes with themes of accepting personal responsibility, confronting denial and assertion of victim's experience, will go further in reducing crime. Patrick O'Dea, Probation and Welfare Officers' Branch of Impact, Finglas, Dublin 11.