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.