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Íngrid Betancourt & Prison Policy

05 December 2007

Senator Ivana Bacik: I support calls by Senator O'Toole and other Members for the release of Íngrid Betancourt. I raised this as a matter on the Adjournment in this Seanad's first week. The last official statement of Government policy was the answer given to me then by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on Ireland's calls for the release of Ms Betancourt. There is a cross-party consensus for the Government to do more in supporting her release. A motion on this could be tabled which would have the support of all Members.

I attended an inspirational debate hosted by law students in Trinity College, Dublin, calling for prison abolition. A passionate speech was made by a leading British criminologist and former prison governor, Professor David Wilson. He made the case for decarceration and the closing down of prisons for all but the very hard-core and dangerous offenders in society.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for a debate on prisons policy? It is generally overlooked as the cliche is that there are no votes in prisons.

People are locked up for long periods. Last night, three young mothers in Cork were locked up for long sentences. The question never asked is what purpose does this serve? While the Minister is proceeding on the prison building programme at Thornton Hall, left to him by his predecessor, it would be worthwhile for the House to have a debate on prisons policy and ask the Minister what purpose is served by building more prison places and detaining people for long periods. Real alternatives must be examined and locking up fine defaulters and those who are no harm to society must be stopped.