Crime – solutions not complaints

June 27, 2007 at 10:20 am | Posted in Statements | Leave a comment

This is the third of the four important policy areas that I said I would address during the course of the Seanad campaign. Below on this blog you can find my proposals regarding democratic reform and health.

 There is a public perception that crime is rising and out of control. Much of the time when people speak about crime they have in mind anti-social behaviours of various kinds. In response to this, there is a very strong reflex reaction to demand more Gardai and more punishment for offenders. However, as with questions of health, we need to think about crime analytically and structurally so that we can understand it and devise appropriate and effective strategies to deal with it. As I have done in my other policy proposals, I wish to outline clear and immediate practical ideas. First, I should say that I too am a victim of crime. I was seriously assaulted in Dublin in 1988 in a random attack. However, I have lived and worked with homeless people in Dublin. There, I came into first-hand contact with Dublin’s drug- and alcohol-addicted population. I worked for a number of months in Mountjoy prison in 1987. I have managed a center for ‘at-risk’ young people in Carlow and worked with vulnerable young people in County Kerry. The proposals I make below are drawn from all of these experiences and from many conversations with those working directly in various types of social care. 

Why crime?

People must be individually responsible for their actions. But incidents of crime can also be directly correlated with social deprivation and inequality. Addressing crime means addressing equality and justice in our society.

  • We need interventions that not just offer opportunities at the level of individuals but also improved social infrastructure such as schools, sports facilities, social clubs and green spaces.
  • This in turn is linked to the need to create democratic structures at community level that can empower people to take charge of issues which directly effect them. Dedicated investment budgets under local control is one clear policy strategy. Private developers that are obliged to liaise with local communities prior to development occurring is another.

Education

Our schools must be centres for developing citizens and citizenship. Justice begins at school. Many problems become manifest at an early age and are in reality either health or social problems which become registered as crime problems later on. We need to break the inexorable transition by which many people with specific needs end up becoming a crime statistic.

  • We need early intervention programmes designed to identify and effectively treat health issues such as learning difficulties and behavioural difficulties.
  • We need close liaison between schools and social services in a structured manner.
  • We need close community involvement in schools with schools becoming community centres and places of lifelong learning where parents and guardians can engage.

Drugs

Drugs are at the heart of much of our crime phenomenon. We need a major, radical drug strategy beginning with education and extending into support for addicts.

  • We need a comprehensive network of drug treatment centres. The model here is the Merchant’s Quay project in Dublin.
  • We need a system where addicts can register and be treated as a health concern receiving comprehensive support and maintenance treatment.
  • We need a drug therapy programme available to all addicts but most particularly those convicted of crime.

Prisons

Many of our prisons are in effect holding-centers for criminals. Conditions for many prisoners are appalling. The punishment of being in prison is the deprivation of one’s liberty. No further punishment is required yet many of our prisoners suffer dreadful personal deprivation while incarcerated.

  •  We need major prison reform emphasising physical standards and educational and personal development activities. We should examine best-practice models such as those being developed in Denmark.
  • In addition to incarceration, we need therapy programmes for a range of offenders including those convicted of drug and sexual offences. 

Garda reform

The organisational model under which the Gardai operate needs serious overhauling.

  • We need a Patton-style Garda reform with a particular emphasis on community-Garda accountability and interaction.

Civil Liberties

In our haste to deal with perceived criminality we need to uphold our civil liberties and the rule of law. The law is there to protect the weak. Criminal law addresses all citizens not just those we regard as criminal.

·        The recent Criminal Justice Acts which have reduced the right to silence, imposed mandatory sentences and permitted greater telephone monitoring by the Gardai needs urgent reform in favour of the citizen.

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