Source: Irish Times (Ireland)
Contact:  Sat, 11 Apr 1998


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.