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Rehabilitation not Mandatory Sentences for Drug Victims

06 December 2007

Senator Ivana Bacik: There appears to be cross-party support for a motion calling for the release of Íngrid Betancourt. I am delighted Senator Fitzgerald and others have raised the issue again. Yesterday, I asked the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House for a debate on prison reform. A sum of €14 million has been allocated in the budget for the expansion of the prison building programme, a mere €5 million is allocated for social inclusion measures under the remit of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and there is no increase in funding for the probation service, which is already hopelessly under-funded as everybody working in the criminal courts knows. It would be useful to have a debate on the purpose served by the prison building programme and additional prison places.

The Leader said yesterday, in the context of the drugs debate, that there is unanimity about the need for tougher measures and mandatory sentences. I do not believe there is. I do not believe mandatory sentences for drug and other offences serve a purpose in terms of rehabilitation. The three young mothers, whose cases were reported yesterday, were sentenced two days ago to long terms of five, four and three years respectively. Had mandatory sentences been imposed they would have been sentenced to ten years each. What purpose does this serve? These are mere couriers; they are low down in the chain. The people at the top of the chain, the drug barons, are not being caught.

We must take a rational approach in any debate on crime, prisons and drugs. Knee-jerk reactions and measures simply do not work. It is not enough to say to people that they must say “No” to drugs. It is similar to asking people to abstain from sex to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS. We should look to harm reduction programmes and more measured and rational responses. Senator Boyle said yesterday that the war on drugs in the US is not working. We must have a rational debate on the issue here, particularly in the context of this huge increase in funding for prisons, which is most regrettable.