Pubdate: Fri, 30 Oct 1998
Source: Irish Times (Ireland)
Copyright: 1998 The Irish Times
Contact:  ++ 353 1 671 9407
Mail: Letters to Editor, The Irish Times, 11-15 D'Olier St, Dublin 2, Ireland
Author: Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent


A Catholic bishop has said he would like to invite three Government
Ministers, the Garda Commissioner, and senior civil servants from the
Department of Justice to spend a week with him "among the people who
make up 75 per cent of our prison population".

The Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin, Dr Eamonn Walsh, who lives in
Tallaght, was asked what he would do if he had control of the
Department of Justice for a time. He replied that he would first say
"the serenity prayer".

Then he would like to invite the Minister for Finance, Mr McCreevy,
the Minister for Education, Mr Martin, the Minister for Social,
Community, and Family Affairs, Mr Ahern, the Garda Commissioner, Mr
Byrne, "and top people of the Department [of Justice]" to lunch.

There he would ask them if they would be prepared "to go out and live
in their [prisoners] family circumstances, to see what difficulties
they experience within their home, within their community, and whether
they would survive there."

His next question to them would be "what immediate action do we need
to take in our education system, our policing, in health care and
social welfare that would lessen the likelihood of such people as
these ending up in prison?" Bishop Walsh, who has long been interested
in the welfare of prisoners and prison reform, was speaking in an
interview with Father Gerard Moloney in the November issue of Reality

He explained that "about 75 per cent of the present prison population
comes from socially disadvantaged areas."

The question had to be asked, he said, whether such people are more
criminal than people in other areas "or is it just that the crime that
they indulge in is the type of crime more readily convicted?"

He believes they are as good as people anywhere else. "They don't have
the same doors opened to them, the same opportunities. A lot of them
have experienced great brokenness in their lives and prison becomes
the bottleneck for a lot of social, educational, and family
difficulties that just get out of hand," he said.

He put out a challenge to the taxpayer as well as to the authorities.
"Are we prepared to tackle the root causes that lead people into crime
who otherwise might not have ended up in that situation if they had
been dealt the same hand as you or I as taxpayers?" he asked.
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Checked-by: Patrick Henry