Prisons and Sexual Crime
Dr Ian O’Donnell, Institute of Criminology, Law Faculty, UCD, explains that in Ireland, Britain and the USA:
One consequence of the politicisation of crime has been a surge in prison populations. Placing more people behind bars might satisfy a thirst for vengeance, if only until the next outrage.
The former Minister for Justice, John O’Donoghue (1997-02) was quick to relate the ‘fall’ in crime to the expansion of the prison population in the IrishRepublic (Sunday Times.2003) upon examination we see that such headline grabbing is not supported by the facts. The former Minister for Justice was falling in behind the discourse of what Bottoms (1995) describes as:
Contrary to O’Donoghue’s spin in the media a comparison between the Garda Siochana Annual Reports (2000-02) paint an entirely different picture than that presented by O’Donoghue about the true state of reported crime in Ireland in this period. In this period of increased prison populace (Irish Prison Service Reports. 1999-00. p.10 also 2000-01) there was increases across all ten categories of ‘headline’ crime. These include the most serious offences such as homicide, assault, rape and robbery. In 2000-02 there was an average of one murder per week, while reported sexual crimes reached unprecedented levels (1,070 < 1,956 < 3,174 respectively). Remembering that the Sex Offenders Bill was introduced in 2001 as the great deterrent against sexual criminality, its effects were to the contrary and continue to be so. It should also be remembered that the conviction of a person for multiple rape is recorded by the Gardai as one crime.
It is this discourse of populist punitiveness and the juggling or massaging of crime figures by weak politicians and their spin doctors that ensures that the public continue to look to imprisonment as a primary means of preventing crime. Marcus Felson (1994) suggests that those societies that depend on the ‘old’ criminal justice agencies as the main sourse of crime prevention:
Have already lost the battle against crime (p.xi)
Unfortunately in the Irish Republic the majority of Ministers only hold the Justice portfolio for a five year period or less and therefore they can survive in office without even attempting any reform of the system, they can in fact spin and weave their way from one Ministerial portfolio to the next without ever taking responsibility for anything including their lavish expense accounts. Muncie (2002) reminds us that in the aftermath of the murder of three year old James Bulger in England in 1993, the youth justice system in particular took a sharp turn down the road to retribution when he says:
Custody was once more promoted as the key means to prevent re-offending through the in-capacitive slogan ‘Prison Works’. As a result, it has been argued that, particularly in England and Wales, a legal discourse of guilt, responsibility and punishment has always tended to surface and resurface as the dominant position in the definition and adjudication of young offending (p.145).
Unfortunately there have been many James Bulger’s since and nothing has changed, in Ireland it is clear that those who pose the most serious threat to society continue while behind prison bars to run criminal empires and order murder and drug shipments by way of mobile phone the way ordinary citizens would order pizza. It is my contention that any growth in the penal population inevitably mutes any commitment to promoting rehabilitation and therefore preventing recidivism amongst offenders in all categories of criminality. From as early as 2003 the effects of a global down turn, in terms of economic growth, were already being felt within the prison system here in Ireland with penny pinching cut backs in education and rehabilitation, even the traditional Christmas packet of cigarettes given to prisoners by some Governors was taken away.
While Ministers for Justice such as John O’Donoghue and Michael Mc Dowell could spend vast fortunes of tax payer’s money on their five start life styles, they failed the public by making mealy mouthed cuts within the prison system. The closing of Shangallagh House by Michael Mc Dowell was described by the Governor of Mountjoy Prison, John Lonnegan as:
An Act of pure Evil
These mealy mouthed cuts have continued each and every year since 2003, while capital projects such as the extension to Wheatfield Prison have went ahead, these moves have been of set by the closure of the Curragh Prison, Spike Island Prison and so forth. The revolving door system that operated in the 1980s is fully operational in 2010, as overcrowding is at an unprecedented level and 1000 prisoners on early release. Regional papers carry court reports of Judges expressing surprise as defendants that they sentenced to terms of imprisonment appear before them on new charges when they should still be serving those custodial sentences. However, even during years of substantial economic growth in the IrishRepublic, a period known as the Celtic Tiger, there was no significant investment in new imaginaries of rehabilitation within or outside the penal system. Generally political administrations appear short sighted when it comes to crime prevention. However, even when light appears at the end of the new imaginaries tunnel, it simply takes one ‘bogus moral panic’ and certain weak politicians, to send even the most progressive political administration into penal regression, as the spin doctors set out to suppress the lurid tabloid headlines.
It is unfortunate that former Ministers for Justice, such as John O’Donoghue could find time within their schedule to write articles for the lurid tabloids and persecute individual citizens, but could only skulk in and out of Wheatfield Prison on a thirty minute visit like some political pervert. Rene van Swaaningen (2002) quotes Garland (2000) to suggest that prison:
On an instrumental level it provides a place where people who cannot be fitted into a ‘free country’ of consumer choice can be warehoused (p.263).
However, in Ireland we are acutely aware that such warehousing is excessively reserved for those who are economically superfluous (O’Mahony.1993). It is clear in Ireland in 2010 that some of the most corrupt and criminal politicians, bankers and property speculators will never see the inside of a prison cell even though they have bankrupted the country through acts of criminality which are economically comparable to the damage done to America by the 9/11 atrocity in New York. It is important to remember that even in countries that have been testing and adapting new imaginaries in crime prevention and particularly the management of offenders within such a paradigm, the penal industry is a growth industry (Christie.1993). Furthermore, Hughes et al (2002) reminds us that:
We continue to live in brutal times, with old crimes and punishments coexisting alongside the new reductive architecture of control and security (p.337).
When a person is convicted of a sexual crime, of which there are many categories, finds him or herself imprisoned, they are in a weird suspended animation. In many cases persons convicted of sexual crime have themselves been abused while in the ‘care’ of the State, Church or domestic setting and have from that went on to be abusers (Casey.1999 and Hoggett.2000). In prison, persons convicted of sexual offending and particularly those with the split victim/perpetrator profile find themselves in an environment populated by abusers, and the socialisation and normalisation process that goes along with such an environment. Eighteen year old boys with the split victim/perpetrator profile are housed with well seasoned abusers, and soon find themselves being sodomised for the price of an ounce of tobacco. Marie Keenan tells us that research indicates that:
Abusers experienced a deficit in intimacy and social skills, leading to emotional isolation. Abusers have a distorted sexual script which allowed abuse; emotional dysregulation which inhibited effective management of feelings, and cognitive distortions/implicit theories which allowed the abuse (Irish Times.2002).
Paul Hoggett (2000) supports this view of abused becoming abuser, when he says:
Bodily and physically integrity, freedom from physical and emotional violence, are central to the development of our being. Traumatised subjects are haunted by a past which casts its shadow over all assertions of agency, in the worst case leaving them doomed to repeat past injuries in future encounters: as we now know, so many abusive fathers were themselves once abused as children (p.146).
Wheatfield Prison in Dublin, was purposely built in the 1980s with modern standards in mind, there is an education unit, work shops and a range of services. Yet with all of these services available, at least one quarter of the prison population rarely leave their cell or landing due to fear of physical attack or psychological abuse. Those persons who do leave their landing to seek help, employment or training, particularly those identified in the media as being convicted for a sexual crime against a child, must run a gauntlet of abuse on a daily basis. In many instances those dispensing the abuse have been convicted of similar crimes, but they have not been identified in the media and so shout loudest to conceal their own crimes. If persons being abused attempt to defend them-selves, the attackers will have ten witnesses to say that the prisoner attacked was the instigator of the violence. Prisoners are then put on a prison charge, known as a P19, and can lose remission.
Many prisoners cannot afford to purchase nor would they ask visitors to leave in ‘normal’ sexual stimuli, as allowed by the Department of Justice. For, example, the Department of Justice allows ‘Mayfair’, a male sex orientated magazine. It can also be seen that many persons convicted of sexual and ‘non-sexual’ crimes use the sexually explicit pictures or literature from the tabloids to decorate the walls of their cells. Many explicit sex orientated magazines are smuggled into the prison system, and recently one of Ireland’s most high profile and dangerous criminals was found to have women’s underwear in his cell. The majority of prisoners cover the walls of their cell with explicit pornography, even that which has been smuggled in. The reason that I pause in relation to persons convicted of ‘non-sexual’ crimes is due to the fact that many persons convicted of drug related offences and so forth make no secret of the fact that they have been involved in rape and other sexual offences, but have not been convicted of same. It is not unusual to hear a group of young prisoners talk about how they were at a party and the women were so ‘stoned’ they had sex with at least one woman without that woman being in a condition to consent to having sex.
Some drug users ‘Junkies’ and drug dealers even boast of how they paid off their victims by giving them a few Euros worth of heroin. Many of these sexually explicit pictures in the cells of prisoners show young women dressed in school uniforms or other child related poses, for example, sucking their thumb, licking a lollipop and so forth. It is then the case that the majority of persons convicted of sexual crimes depend on the tabloids and explicit sexual contraband for stimuli. It is the lurid sexual detail of articles and court cases, coupled with sex orientated advertising contained in the tabloid press that gives a sense of normalisation to those who have a distorted sexual script and others who are without countervailing influences. Many persons convicted of sexual crimes refer to the ‘journalists’ who provide them with this daily diet of deviant sexual stimuli as Journophiles. The Journophile is to the sexually dysfunctional what the drug dealer is to the ‘Junkie’ he/she feeds, in many cases, what is a compulsive addiction. Many prisoners found in the illegal possession of mobile phones, approximately 2000 mobiles are confiscated each year, were found to have used those phones to ring perverted sex chat lines in the tabloids.
Normal prison life means that prisoners are locked in their cells for seventeen hours per day; add to this administrative interment, deviant sexual stimuli, without rehabilitative resource and the results are sadly predictable. In 2009 a prisoner who had just been released from Wheatfield having served a sentence for rape, committed another sexual crime within fourteen hours of his release. This prisoner had during his sentence been confined to his cell 24 hours per day without access to rehabilitative care, even though he sought such care, he was told that there was no money to provide such rehabilitative care. Isolation, de-socialisation, drug use/abuse, sensory deprivation, emotional deprivation and so on, make a bad situation worse. In many cases persons convicted of sexual crimes are already isolated and marginalised from family and community before going to prison. Added to this social stigma in the community, resulting from being convicted of a sexual crime, particularly involving children, upon entering prison are further isolated.
This isolation in prison is not only due to the administrative internment mentioned above, but also isolation from the general prison population. This isolation occurs especially, although not exclusively, if their cases have been reported in the media, and the threat to their safety that flows from that added punishment. Some such prisoners, particularly members of Religious orders, Gardai, politicians and so forth get special treatment and are sent to the safe environment of Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin that caters almost exclusively for sex offenders. While Wheatfield Prison now houses the majority of sex offenders presently serving sentences in the Republic, Wheatfield is a very dangerous place for both staff and vulnerable prisoners. The recent gang rape of a young prisoner in Wheatfield on the orders of a Limerick based gang housed there highlights the perversity of the situation in Wheatfield. Officers are regularly subjected to threat and intimidation and for this reason many prison officers have been caught bringing drugs and other contraband into the gangs who run Wheatfield. Wheatfield like most prisons in the Republic is controlled on the outside by the State, but controlled on the inside by gangs; I call this the doughnut effect. The State keeps the prisoners in, while the gangs run the various landings and wings within the prisons.
However, Arbour Hill is far from meeting best practice or international standards in the management of sex offenders, the normalisation process of deviant sexual behaviour simply becomes manifest when clusters of offenders are placed together. This thesis is supported by some contributors to a very progressive report on sexual offending that was commissioned by the Irish Prison Service (Lundstrom.2002). It has been found that sex offenders are provided in prison with a unique opportunity to net work. For example, in the case of Paddy O’Driscoll who had served a sentence for rape, was released and raped again, on the night of his most recent rape for which he is now serving eighteen years, he was in the company of another convicted rapist Paddy Moorehouse, whom he had meet in prison. In 2008, Gardai discovered that a serial sex offender, Peter Hayden from CountyKilkenny, who had been released from Wheatfield, was using a false name to have daily phone contact with another serial sex offender Eamon ‘Captain’ Cooke who remained in Wheatfield.
It is also worth noting that when a person convicted of sexual crimes enters prison, particularly prisons not catering for such persons, the convicted person is told by prison staff to say that they are in for an offence that is not sexual, for example, robbery. While this ‘denial’ is suggested by the staff in the interests of prisoner safety, it can eventually lead to prisoners who have pleaded guilty in Court, becoming convinced of their own innocence. This denial leads to even greater psychological trauma and set back in the acceptance process of the wrong done. Many persons convicted of sexual crimes have received brutal treatment at the hands of fellow inmates and some times acquiescing staff. This brutal treatment is due to the fact that sections of the media have given status to persons convicted of heinous ‘non’ sex crimes, Martin Cahill (The General) or John Gilligan are cult heroes among the criminal hordes, thanks to the tabloids. These cult heroes have committed much greater crimes in premeditation, number and deed, than any person convicted of sexual offending.
However, the exclusion of persons convicted of sexual crimes from the ‘ordinary decent criminal’ is not exclusive. Leading members of Dublin, Limerick gangs who have convictions for rape and sexual assault are openly accepted into the prison landings that house ‘the ordinary decent criminal’. Stephen ‘Rossi’ Walsh convicted in 2009 for the rape of a nine year old child is serving his sentence with ‘ordinary decent criminals’. In many cases particularly among clusters of prisoners from the same area of Dublin, Limerick and so forth, it is ‘macho’ for a twenty year old prisoner to have raped a woman or young girl. However, a sixty year old, particularly from outside Dublin, Limerick and so forth, entering prison for the same crime is likely to be the subject of serious abuse. In Wheatfield Prison some of the prisoners causing most problems for persons convicted of sexual crime are persons who are convicted of the same if not worse offences, however, if they are not identified in the media they can use the ‘attack’ mechanism for their own protection. One prisoner Michael ‘Micko’ Whelan who was constantly attacking or causing to be attacked, older men who had been identified in the media for being convicted of sexual crime, was serving a long sentence for raping a school girl at knife point.
In October, 2001, two prisoners were sentenced to nine years and three years respectively at Roscommon Circuit Court. These two prisoners carried out a horrific attack on a fellow inmate at Castlerea Prison, in February, 2001, after falsely accusing the victim of being convicted of a sexual offence (Irish Independent.2001). A third prisoner would be sentenced to nine years for the same attack (Irish Independent.2002). Rarely are such cases prosecuted, due mainly to the fear of the victim, of further attack within the prison system, if he/she Rats. Rat is derogatory term used to describe a prisoner who passes information onto the authorities. Prisoners who are suspected of being Rats can be subject to stabbings, slashing, assaults and so forth, a prisoner in Wheatfield Prison was recently raped as it was alleged that he was a Rat.
Elizabeth Stanko (2000) when speaking about the effects of racist abuse describes closely the environment that many persons convicted of sexual crime find themselves in, when she says:
The experience of racist abuse demonstrates that the climate of subordination and inequality is maintained through a continual stream of comments and actions, constantly reminding those in particular groups that they are living within a hostile and intimidating social environment (p.255).
While many may think that persons convicted of such crimes should be subject to such abuse, it should clearly be noted that 96% of their peers are never prosecuted. Sharon Gewirtz (2000) quotes, Young, to highlight the negative effects of oppressive institutional violence:
The oppression of violence consists not only in direct victimisation, but in the daily knowledge shared by all members of oppressed groups that they are liable to violation, solely on account of their group identity. Just living under such threat of attack on oneself or family or friends deprives the oppressed of freedom and dignity, and needlessly expends their energy…To the degree that institutions and social practices encourage, tolerate, or enable the perpetration of violence against members of specific groups, those institutions and practices are unjust and should be reformed (p.319).
While Wheatfield Prison is one of only two prisons built in modern times and with modern standards in mind, it has no communal eating, although there is a communal eating area provided on each of the twenty landings. Each landing has sixteen cells that were designed for single occupancy, however, those cells have now been doubled up and so a landing designed for a maximum population of sixteen prisoners now houses thirty-two prisoners. Recreation is limited to two hours each evening, at which time prisoners can play a game of pool or watch television. This administrative internment further creates the conditions for a de-socialising process. Even on a special occasion, such as Ireland playing Germany in the World Cup (5.6.2002) prisoners were locked in their cells for the duration of the game and longer. Although prisoners have a fourteen inch television in their cells for which they pay five Euro per month, the World Cup presented a unique opportunity for prisoners to share a communal experience and with that some sense of normality and worth, yet it was lost. In 2010 while Ireland may not be in the World Cup the prisoners are certainly in their cells.
Much of the focus by certain sections of the media and government legislation on sexual crime has led to a devaluing of human life. This devaluing of human life is not simply due to the fact that some persons convicted of sexual offending are spending more time in prison than those convicted of murder, man-slaughter and so forth, but due to the fact that little or no attention is paid to rehabilitation for those who view deviance as normality. This deviant normality is a perception greatly enhanced by the same media who would provide the wood for the scaffold, for those convicted of sexual offending, most of whom need help not harm. In Ireland today there are two places where members of sexual deviant sub-cultures can meet in greater numbers, the Internet and Prison. Operation Amethyst proved the former, my own observations proves the latter. That is not to say that everyone convicted of sexual crimes on entering prison, will automatically sit down with other persons convicted of similar crimes and exchange stories. Quite the contrary in many cases, however, without countervailing influences, a common language is soon accepted and derogatory terms for women and sexual acts in general, become the standard discourse. It is this objectification of potential victims that will ensure that more people will be subject to sexual criminality.
In 2010 the Fianna Fail lead coalition Government continues to deny open, honest and transparent debate about child sexual abuse. On Thursday the 17th of June 2010, Mr Alan Shatter, Fine Gael spokesman on children insisted that a European Directive on combating the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and child pornography should be discussed in a plenary Dail session, stating that:
It should be discussed on the floor of the house and not simply nodded through.
It is this type of on going denial by the Government to address these serious matters in any meaningful way that helps facilitate and normalise sexual criminality in our country. While certain sections of the media and internet sites generate and supply a demand for lurid sexual material. The Criminal Justice System, and in particular the prison system has essentially to play a significant role in the rehabilitation process. Successive Ministers for Justice and Governments of Ireland have consistently negated their responsibility in this area. At the end of the first five years of the Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrat coalition Government (1997-02) a five year period in which the IrishRepublic enjoyed unprecedented economic growth, there were eight places provided per annum on a tailored programme for sex offenders at Arbour Hill Prison. This was the only such programme within the criminal justice system. In 2010 there are no programmes specifically designed for the rehabilitation of those convicted of sexual offending and within the Irish prison system, there are several hundred persons men/women presently serving sentences for sexual criminality.
Even when there was a programme specifically tailored for the rehabilitation of convicted sex offenders, there was what can only be described as a ‘Rehabilitation Lottery’, prisoners seeking help were told time and again that there was no facilities available for them. Some prisoners, who had committed serious sexual crimes, including gratuitous violence against their victims, had applied for a place on the programme at Arbour Hill Prison but were refused. On one occasion a serial offender who wanted rehabilitative help went to the High Court in desperation to try and force the Government to provide him with access to rehabilitation before he was released from prison (see, Farrell v The State) both the High Court and the Supreme Court ruled that it was a matter for the Government if they provided rehabilitation or not.
Week after week persons convicted of sexual offending leave Irish prisons after serving sentences ranging from one to fifteen years, without having received even basic rehabilitative opportunity. Like many other categories of offenders, persons convicted of sexual crimes are denied even a limited pre-release/reintegration programme, before being parachuted back into the community. A case coming before the Dublin Circuit Court in 2001, highlighted this criminal negligence by the then Minister for Justice, John O’Donoghue and his Department, when Judge Yvonne Murphy returned a man to prison for three years at his own request. This man could not cope with life outside of the prison system, having just served an eight year sentence from which he had been de-socialised and institutionalised (Irish Independent.2001). However, many such offenders unable able to cope with life outside of prison do not normally return by such a diplomatic route. Many released prisoners simply re-offend to return to three square meals per day, to a place that is more familiar to them than the hostile community that waits on the outside of the wall.
That hostile community that has been created by banner headlines and certain weak politicians, all of whom care more about their own inflated salaries and expenses than they do about child protection and community safety. Both Focus Ireland and PACE, say that homelessness is a major problem for ex-prisoners. Add to homelessness all of the other needs of ex-prisoners and the result is predictable. The Irish Penal Reform Trust, produced a report in 2001, ‘Out of Mind, Out of Sight’, which showed that at least one-third of prisoners were mentally disabled or are learning deficient, the Fianna Fail Government tried to suppress this report. Successive Ministers for Justice in the IrishRepublic have remained wedded to the penal discourse of crime and punishment, while other more progressive countries such as Britain, Australia and Canada have been developing new imaginaries in correctional practice. Such imaginaries have been directed at moulding self reliant prisoners. Within this enterprises paradigm prisoners are ‘Trained for Freedom’ (Garland.1996). Garland (1996) continues by saying that such regimes:
Enlist the prisoner as an agent in his/her own rehabilitation, and as an entrepreneur of his/her own personal development. They are permitted to choose their preferred options from within the available range of developmental activities (p.462).
The criminal negligence of John O’Donoghue and other backward thinking Ministers for Justice, is ignored by the trial judge if a convicted person/non-rehabilitated person re-offends upon release. The offender is simply thrown back on the criminal justice conveyor belt, that has churned out generations of repeat offenders (O’Mahony.2000, Goldson and Peters.2000). It was incredible to hear the former Minister for Justice, John O’Donoghue, congratulate himself on the fact that there were more people in prison than before he took office, this he believed in his ignorance was progress. A case could easily be made before the court that it was John O’Donoghue and others who were the real criminals by denying convicted persons a basic fundamental Human Right, that right being access to appropriate rehabilitative care, we now know that O’Donoghue and others were more concerned about their own five start luxury than they were or are about the rape of children.
If Health Boards can be sued for failing to protect children, why should rape victims not sue the Government of Ireland, for failing to at least offer the opportunity of rehabilitation to prisoners who are convicted of sexual crime and then go on to re-offend after their release from prison. If it can be shown that Ministers wasted vast sums of public money lining their own pockets while failing to make rehabilitation available to those prisoners who sought help, then those Ministers and the State should be sued if not prosecuted for criminal negligence. It is worth noting that many commentators on sexual criminality, and particularly some within the ‘victims industry’ have called for prisoners to be subject to mandatory rehabilitation, again such calls show the depth of ignorance prevailing in some quarters. During John O’Donoghue’s term as Minister for Justice, dozens of persons convicted of sexual offending applied for and were denied rehabilitative help. However, this clutching at sound-bites by the self-serving and ill-informed fails to recognise the failure of such compulsory programmes in relation to other forms of ‘dysfunction’, for example, drug addiction (O’Malley.2002).
The most crucial fact evading legislative change or public discourse in relation to sexual criminality is that persons imprisoned for sexual crimes are only a small percentage of those who engage in sexual criminality. Remembering, for example, that 96% of persons confirmed by Health Boards as having raped and sexually abused children will never be prosecuted. There are 23,000 files belonging to known sex offenders in the fourteen area Health Boards and none of these files have been passed to the Gardai. Some files have been passed to the Gardai but these 23,000 files were men and women in equal number have admitted to sexually abusing children have never been passed to the Gardai. It is this 4% of convicted persons that certain weak politicians, ‘interest groups’ and sections of the media find easiest to attack, rather than addressing the structural failures of the State to provide even basic protections for children from those with greatest access to children in Ireland. Thousands of women and men who have been confirmed by Health Board staff as having raped and sexually abused children, have unsupervised/unrestricted access to children every day of the week in Ireland.
As mentioned earlier people can work with children in crèches and so on, without training or even basic clearance procedures being in place. Many crèches and child ‘care’ facilities have employed cheap foreign labour, the majority of whom cannot be vetted in any manner. What value is Garda Siochana clearance procedure, when 96% of persons who have been confirmed by Health Board staff as having committed sexual acts against children are not prosecuted? This writer wants a national data base in place, and on that data base the names of every person who has been confirmed as a child abuser and every one who has concealed/facilitated that child abuse on that data base, purely for child protection and community safety reasons. It is an outrage that persons confirmed as having raped and abused children can work within our Health and Child Care systems. This Government has continued to allow the smoke and mirrors of legal constraint, to restrain the Health Boards and the Gardai from informing potential employers that confirmed sex offenders, women and men, pose a threat to children. O’Mahony (1996) reminds us that:
The official response to the presence of an ever increasing number of persons convicted of sexual crimes in the Irish prison system with regard to rehabilitation, treatment and education, has matched the scandalously neglected response to the problem of drug using prisoners (p.223).
Mr Justice Flood likened the system of dealing with persons imprisoned for sexual crime to:
Throwing a chicken carcass into a bin and leaving it there to rot (O’Mahony.1996.p.224)
While Mr Justice Flood’s comments are equally applicable in 2010 the fact is that the carcass does not rot away, but is released back into the community, a community that is as ill prepared to deal with such offenders as the prison system. This failure to rehabilitate in turn leads to further isolation, frustration and anger of the individual concerned, the results of which in all categories of crime is the committing of more crimes, because the offender has nothing left to lose by going back to prison (O’Mahony.1993. Goldson and Peters.2000) While one recognises that the Probation and Welfare services, Education services, psychological services and other professionals who work within the prison system do their best, it is a best within a vacuum. A vacuum due to lack of policy objective or direction, resource scarcity and political indifference, while some prison officers run workshops and so forth, these services are under staffed, under funded and in most cases de-motivated due to a lack of multi-disciplinary/strategic approach to the rehabilitation of convicted persons (Lundstrom.2002).
In the IrishRepublic in recent years many politicians and other opinion formers, have fallen in behind the prevailing zeitgeist of the hard line consensus. In the UK and Northern Ireland the focus has been on Human Rights, particularly in Northern Ireland since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement (1998), in areas such as policing, judiciary, prisons and law reform. The hard line consensus in the Republic has moved further from the Constitution and international Human Rights standards to a regime of repression, thus precipitating the current crisis in values and purpose in the Irish Criminal Justice system. With the exception of a few Judges, an acquiescent judiciary have like performing poodles, administered, rushed and ill-considered criminal justice legislation. Legislation that is passed by certain weak politicians to assuage public opinion, an opinion or ‘moral panic’ normally manufactured by the lurid tabloid press and those on fatted salaries within the ‘victims industry’. O’Malley (2002) reminds us that while Britain and Australia are fostering more progressive regimes in relation to prisoner rehabilitation the same Governments are:
Introducing increasingly oppressive risk-based regimes bearing on ‘sexual’ and ‘violent’ offenders (p.293).
Certain weak politicians have murdered, by legislation, any progress towards a system that produces good citizens rather than repeat offenders. Political and media interference with the judicial process is not a new phenomenon, however, that interference and intimidation has gone relatively unchecked in recent years. Such exposed interference has seen the resignation of Government Ministers, Bobby Molloy and Trevor Sargent are such examples. Former Minister for Justice, John O’Donoghue was subject to a private criminal prosecution when it was established that he had abused his office to interfere in a criminal case (Mc Kenna v O’Donoghue.2002). Paul O’Mahony (1996) says that:
It is unlikely that judges have been completely impervious and unresponsive in this matter. Judges have certainly utilised the longer sentences now available to them for sexual offences (p.16).
An extremely worrying result of the hard line consensus, and political populism that under pins it is that successive Ministers for Justice have decided to treat persons convicted of sexual crimes, differently from all other offenders. Ministers for Justice have adopted an unconstitutional and inhuman policy of keeping persons convicted of sexual offending in prison until the last minute on their committal warrant, with the statutory 25% reduction for good behaviour. Why Justice Ministers have adopted this discrimination is clear, they fear the banner headlines of the tabloids and they quake in their boots at the marching hordes of the Feminazi. It is not my argument that all crimes can be treated equal, there are certain individuals who have committed heinous crimes, and those crimes cannot easily be explained away, however, there are many prisoners who when treated with some sense of decency and dignity can go on to lead normal lives that are crime free. If you deny a prisoner the opportunity of getting out of prison for a few hours a couple of weeks before his/her release date simply to get a shirt and pair of trousers, and that prisoner can see that other more dangerous criminals are getting such basic concessions, then the result is anger and resentment. Many Ministers for Justice have been on bended knee to convicted terrorists yet the same Ministers abuse their authority to discriminate against prisoners who don’t have guns and bombs to back them up.
It costs an average of one-thousand-five-hundred-Euro per week to keep a prisoner in jail according to the Irish Prison Service. If we remember that the vast majority of prisoners do not receive even basic rehabilitative care while in prison and the vast majority (90%) of persons convicted of non-sexual offences go on to reoffend, alternative crime prevention imaginaries must be sought. The Whitaker Committee (1985) recommended an increase in remission from the current 25% to 33% (O’Mahony.1993.p.217). Such an increase is now in place if prisoners under take certain courses and training while in prison. This shift to increased remission has a dual potential, the medium to long term benefits of shifting resource from security to rehabilitation will be realised in a reduction in recidivism. It is worth noting that this saving or redistribution of 8.3% (25%
We need a review of the entire system, but that wont happen anytime soon
Today Monday 8/8/2011 the Irish Government is considering early release for long term prisoners as the prisons are filled to capacity and more
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