Pubdate: Mon, 20 Dec 1999
Source: Irish Times (Ireland)
Copyright: 1999 The Irish Times
Contact:  11-15 D'Olier St, Dublin 2, Ireland
Fax: + 353 1 671 9407
Author: Emmet Oliver


Several judges and the Garda Commissioner have called for changes to
the probation and welfare service, particularly for young offenders.

In submissions to a government-appointed expert group, judges said
young offenders who are unsuitable for prison are receiving jail
sentences, while other prisoners who should serve longer sentences are
being released early.

The judges told the Expert Group on the Probation and Welfare Service
the needs of young offenders were not being met, and increased
re-offending was the result.

A Dublin Circuit Court judge, Mr Pat McCartan, said if there was "an
expanded and fully resourced probationary service" judges would have
an "alternative to incarceration". He said it was "frustrating" for
judges not to have access to effective non-custodial penalties.

The expert group recently issued a report calling for major changes
and the Minister for Justice, Mr O'Donoghue, is examining the report.
He has already stated that 39 new probation and welfare officers will
be hired. Submissions to the group were obtained by The Irish Times
under the Freedom of Information Act.

Judge McCartan told the group: "It is a fact that there are many
prisoners in jail at any one moment that might be better dealt with
outside prison.

"Conversely there are many prisoners being released too early
primarily because of the shortage of prison spaces".

In his submission to the group, the Garda Commissioner, Mr Pat Byrne,
said he could see the "necessity" of input into probation and welfare
service from some body independent of the Department of Justice,
Equality and Law Reform.

He said criminal behaviour should be tackled by a "complex range of
solutions". He said the work of probation and welfare officers, who
look "behind the criminal behaviour" was necessary, practical and vital.

The service also needed administrative back up in order to minimise
the time spent on non-core activities, he said. More formal structures
were needed to link the Garda's programme dealing with juvenile
offenders - the Juvenile Liaison Officers (JLO) scheme - and the work
done by the probation and welfare officers.

He said JLOs had "vast amounts of information" on juvenile offenders
which could be of benefit to the probation and welfare service, but
needed formal structures to be set so it could be exchanged.

On early release, Judge David Riordan of the Cork District Court said
"it would appear that prisoners who are given custodial sentences are
released from custody without any further reference to being under the
control of anybody in authority". 
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