Home > Seanad Eireann debate: Restorative Justice Process: Motion (Continued).

[Oireachtas] Seanad Eireann debate: Restorative Justice Process: Motion (Continued). (20 Mar 2013)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/seanad...

[Senator Michael Mullins: ] The key to reducing crime among young people is the provision of opportunities to work and to do something meaningful with their lives. I welcome the youth guarantee scheme initiative which will ensure that when finishing secondary school young people will have an opportunity for further education, training or work experience. Over the years when I worked in industry I had the opportunity to give employment - long-term employment in some cases - or work experience to young people who found themselves outside the law and who had committed crimes. When they engaged with people in a work environment and where people looked out for them and cared for them, their lives were turned around. This is the outcome we want from a restorative justice system.  

The Ballinasloe Training Workshop, or Canal House, as it is also known, is in my home town of Ballinasloe. It is operated by the Probation Service in conjunction with the Department of Justice and Equality, FÁS, County Galway VEC, the local community and the Courts Service. Its aim is to enable offenders to re-integrate into society through the provision of training and employment opportunities, to reduce re-offending through the provision of alcohol and substance misuse awareness programmes, supplemented by appropriate workshops and one-to-one sessions, and to develop restorative community projects with organisations such as the Tidy Towns committee and sporting organisations. The programme is working. It is not as extensively used as we would like but I am reliably informed that as much as two thirds of the people who engage with the process at Ballinasloe Training Workshop do not re-offend. 

The restorative justice process presents real opportunities to consider alternatives to prison. As a previous speaker said, it needs to be established in legislation. I welcome the Minister's commitment to further this process. We need a national debate on the issue in order to have engagement from the public. Like ourselves, the majority of people do not know what is involved. We need to take the victims' concerns on board because they must be central to the process. Restorative justice offers significant opportunities at a much reduced cost.

I commend Senator Conway for introducing this motion. I hope it will be the first of many discussions in this House on the matter. I urge the Minister to expedite legislation that will provide real alternatives to the prison system and to a penal system that has failed. 

Senator Rónán Mullen: Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I congratulate Senator Conway and Senator Burke for proposing and seconding this motion and other speakers whose contributions I found very interesting. I have long been a believer in the importance of advancing restorative justice processes in our prison system and as an alternative to prison. I urge all present to give consideration to restorative justice as a serious and effective alternative to imprisonment in many cases. Currently the justice system is failing to deliver. It continues to lock up the poor and the vulnerable but it does not prevent crime or deter offenders. It does not address the root causes of crime and it does not manage to rehabilitate offenders very much either. Evidence of this can be found in the high rate of recidivism. The truth is that nobody benefits from crime, neither victims nor the community and under the current justice system the offender does not benefit especially if he or she continues to re-offend. 

We have been talking about this for a long time but so much more needs to be done. Back in 2004 the annual report of the prison chaplains contained the combined reflections and experiences of those chaplains. They questioned the current system where people are imprisoned and a method of rehabilitation is attempted. However, it is questioned whether this can have a positive effect when people are removed from their family and society, when all responsibility is removed from them, such as the responsibility to earn a living, to care for their families and to become contributing members of society. I am not denying, of course, that there are situations where the custodial dimension is essential. However, we need to be realistic about what occurs under the current system where prisoners are confined to their cells for more than 17 hours a day with nothing to occupy them only television and computer games. As many who enter prison are not even able to read, that luxury is denied them. How can this be called rehabilitation when perhaps only four or five hours a day are devoted to education and work experience and only two hours a day devoted to recreation? The practical needs such as food and shelter are provided for but other basic human needs are denied to them. For example, young people of 16 and 17 are removed and isolated from their families and mothers and fathers are removed from their children. This will surely have a negative effect on future generations. Wives and children become social welfare recipients while at the same time husbands and fathers walk prison yards or lie in beds. The chaplains' report queried how productive from an economic point of view is the minimal training available in workshops when the same walls are constructed, painted over, knocked down and then the whole process repeated constantly. Prisoners often become institutionalised and marginalised. They lack social skills and they certainly do not develop the normal skills for everyday living. 

[For full debate click on this link to the Oireachtas website]

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