Seanad Éireann - Volume 103 - 07 March, 1984

Report on Penal System: Motion (Resumed):

Debate resumed on the following motion:

That Seanad Éireann notes the MacBride Commission Report on the Penal System and calls on the Government to establish a commission to report on all aspects of crime, its sources and prevention, the treatment of offenders within the legal system, the operation of the prison system, alternatives to custodial treatment and the establishment of comprehensive schemes for rehabilitation.

—(Senator M. Higgins.)

Professor Dooge: I would like to apologise on behalf of my party for the fact that we were not in a position to offer a speaker on the resumption. One of our Senators who had been designated to speak is not available; he became unwell during the course of the sitting. I apologise to the House that we were not able to do our part. I understand, however, that in the light of the circumstances we have now, the Minister is willing to intervene now.

Minister for Justice (Mr. Noonan, Limerick East): First of all, I would like to apologise for any part I may have had in the delay in resuming business in the House this evening. I came in with the [361] intention of listening to the contributions from Senators and replying to them, I have many notes so that I can make appropriate responses to points raised.

I welcome this opportunity to speak in the Seanad. It is the first opportunity I have had to address either House of the Oireachtas on the question of the penal system and the prisons since the setting up of this inquiry, which is locally colloquially known as the Whitaker inquiry into the prisons. It is also the first time that I can remember when we have had a debate solely directed to the penal system and the prisons as distinct from the functional area of the Department of Justice as a whole either in the Dáil or in the Seanad.

On 31 January 1984 the committee of inquiry was set up under the chairmanship of Dr. Ken Whitaker. I am very glad that a man of his experience and depth of knowledge was willing to take up this onerous task and to chair the committee. It is also worth mentioning the other members of the committee. The committee is complete and the people on it have accepted and they will be functioning very shortly. There is no great public awareness about who exactly is on the committee so it is worth mentioning it here in the House. The committee members are: Dr. John Cooney, a consultant psychiatrist, Associate Medical Director of St. Patrick's Hospital in Dublin; Mr. Declan Doyle who is a marketing director of Irish Cement Limited and has a lot of experience in the building industry — and there is a major expansion programme in the prisons and relevant experience in building is appropriate; the Honourable Mr. Justice Henchy who is a judge of the Supreme Court — the need is there for somebody with the legal expertise of a Supreme Court judge and Mr. Justice Henchy is particularly welcome on the committee; Father Peter McVerry, SJ, from the Centre of Faith and Justice, who has experience of conditions within the prisons in his capacity as a supplementary chaplain on one occasion, and he has done a tremendous amount of work for people who are at risk, especially for young people who are at risk in the inner city; Ms. Breege [362] O'Donoghue, who is personnel manager of a large company and will have a wide contribution to make, especially in the area of personal relationships; Ms. Patricia O'Donovan is the Legislation and Equality Officer of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions — The Irish Congress of Trade Unions have already written a report on the penal system and I understand that Ms. O'Donovan played a prominent part in that so, again, apart from her trade union experience she is bringing some additional experience on to the committee; Dr. David B. Rottman is the senior research officer of the Economic and Social Research Institute. I understand he is an American, but he is actually engaged in research work into the penal system in this country already and is working in conjunction with the Department of Justice on material which is relevant, I am very glad that he has been willing to serve on this committee; finally, Father Liam Ryan, who is Professor of Sociology in St. Patrick's College, Maynooth; I do not think it is necessary for me to eulogise the qualities of Father Ryan.

It is a well-balanced committee, and I hope that it will examine the areas in the terms of reference and that it will be able to make recommendations which can be the basis for policy. I do not believe in committees that go on interminably; I do not believe in committees who bring out long reports which cannot be used for the basis of policy subsequently. Given the composition of this committee and the chairmanship of this committee I have great confidence that not only will we have an expeditious report but that we will have a report which will make definite recommendations which will help me as Minister for Justice, and my successors, to form and to execute policy in the penal area for many years to come.

Even though I was not here when you began to discuss this topic last week — I was engaged in Private Members' Time in the Dáil — I have read some of the more substantial contributions to that debate and I will refer to them as I go along.

There was a general criticism made that the MacBride Committee was looking [363] into the penal system as a whole in a very wide way but there was a feeling that the Whitaker Committee was more restricted in its terms of reference. I would like to go through the terms of reference to indicate, without in any way attempting to tie the hands of the committee, where I think the thrust of the inquiry lies.

The first term of reference is to examine the law in regard to imprisonment in related areas with a view to establishing whether (1) a reduction in the number of persons being committed and (2) a shortening of the periods of committal generally and of the period served can be achieved. First of all, if we think of the numbers in prisons, there are tonight in prisons in this country about 1,620 people. This is approximately 200 more than there was this time last year. On average, in 1982 there would have been just over 1,200 in prison and now it has gone up to over 1,600. This is not necessarily because the number of people being sentenced through our courts has expanded to any large degree, it is principally because there was not sufficient accommodation previously to house people who were being sentenced; in a sense we are providing some of that accommodation now.

Secondly, there are people who have been shed from the system who cannot be accommodated in our prisons, and I will refer to that subsequently. It is difficult to establish how we fare relative to other countries. Some statistical information to hand might help. Rates of imprisonment per 100,000 of population on 1 September 1983 were, in Ireland, 42 per 100,000. If I read the statistics and comment subsequently you will get the pattern. In the Netherlands, it was 28 per 100,000; in Spain, it was 38; Malta, 30; Iceland, 24; Cyprus 36; Sweden 43; Norway 47; Denmark 60; Switzerland, 62 and the UK 87 per 100,000. Whether that proves anything is difficult to say, because one always needs the background to the statistics. The Netherlands figure is extraordinarily low. One would think that they had succeeded in finding the panacea to the crime problem. When [364] we examine it further we find that there are about 11,000 people in the Netherlands who have not succeeded in booking their place in prison yet; there is more than a two-year waiting list. One gets a note through the post saying “There is a place now available, come along”. Obviously, the low statistic there is not of great help.

What is important from our present point of view is that the number of people in our prisons who are on remand is quite low relative to international standards. That is very important. Prisons are a necessary evil in society; if they are to be a necessary evil they are certainly only to be used as far as possible for those who are actually sentenced by the courts and not to be used extensively to hold people on remand.

In the first term of reference there is a concentration on numbers; there is a concentration on cost; there is a concentration on the shortening of the period. The general thrust of the first term of reference is to indicate to the committee of inquiry that we would like them to look at alternatives to imprisonment. If the guards bring someone before the court, the court has to examine the situation. They have a number of alternatives open to them. They certainly can send somebody to prison. They can give somebody a suspended sentence. Probation orders can be made so that they will be in the care of the probation and welfare service. Somebody can be fined.

I maintain that we have not got sufficient alternatives to imprisonment. I maintain that there are people in our prisons who would not be there at all but for the fact that sufficient alternatives are not available. We have the problem that a justice in the District Court or a judge is faced with the situation where there is a limited number of alternatives and it is a matter of deciding whether to give a suspended sentence which would allow culprits out in society or see if anything else can be done. One of the obvious questions is: what about the Community Service Order Bill which was brought in last year? When I brought in that Bill last year I said that there was no money in the 1983 Estimates for it. That was one [365] problem. You need money for the implementation of the Community Service Order Act.

I mentioned another problem which did not strike home at the time. It is this. The experience in England would suggest that it would be impossible to bring this Act in on a pilot basis. The advice to me is that because of the nature of society it would be improper and probably unconstitutional to have different sanctions operating in different parts of the State. If there was a particular sanction in one part of the State that was not available to citizens in another part of the State, and if it could be perceived as a softer option or an alternative to imprisonment and if somebody in Cork would end up in prison and somebody in Dublin would be put on community service for similar offences, that would not stand up. It has to be implemented right through the State. To do that it is necessary to have the probation and welfare officers to organise it. It is necessary to have trades people, people with skills on the ground, to control the work. That is the reason for the delay. The money was allocated in the last budget. There is money in 1984. The details are being finalised with the Department of the Public Service. It will be possible to implement the Community Service Order Act this year and to do it all over the country. To do it, staff has to be recruited and that can be put in train very quickly. The Minister has to make orders under which the scheme will operate. Work is being done on that as well.

I would hope that some time in the summer this scheme will be operational and that there will be a further alternative to imprisonment, to fines and to suspended sentences available to our courts. I think this is very important indeed.

I would hope that the committee would examine other alternatives. I believe that the range of alternatives is not sufficient. People end up in prison who if there was a better range of alternatives would not be in prison in the first place. The committee can draw on the experiences from other countries. There is a possibility of limited imprisonment. There is a possibility of people attending prison at weekends, for example. That might not be the [366] best solution. There needs to be a greater flexibility in sentencing to prison and a wider range of alternatives. It may be a weak point to make, but if I had all the answers of what the alternatives should be we would not need a committee in the first place. We need the advice of an expert group examining the situation to see what can be done.

In this context I would like to mention the juvenile liaison scheme run by the Garda Síochána. A number of Senators, speaking in this debate, talked about the difficulties which they envisaged in a growing alienation of certain sections of the community especially the young, from the gardaí. The juvenile liaison scheme run by the gardaí is working successfully. It has the capacity to be expanded. It must be tied up with the whole idea of community policing and the integration of the police in the community. It is an area which the committee of inquiry can examine and can look at very effectively.

If we had a number of alternatives to imprisonment available to our judges we would still have problems. The Community Service Order Act is intended to provide that community services would be in lieu of a prison sentence. If they are used in lieu of a probation order or in lieu of a fine or in lieu of a suspended sentence then they will not achieve what the Minister and the people who drafted the Bill intend the community service order to achieve.

Every individual who comes before the courts is different. They come there in different circumstances. The actual categorising of crime may be the same but the circumstances and the background of each particular case are different. Justices and judges need flexibility to deal with the different cases which come before them, the different individuals who come before them. That is why I would be opposed in principle to mandatory minimum sentences — because each case is different. I would also like to say that so many people arrive in so many courts that there must be an overall sentencing policy. The potential is there for consultation under the 1961 Courts Act. The President of the District Court can [367] call his justices together and they can discuss anything that pertains to their areas of responsibility and certainly to sentencing. I have been assured through my Department by the Presidents of the other courts, the Circuit Court and the High Court, that there is no difficulty about judges coming together informally to discuss a sentencing policy or any other matters which are relevant. I would like that this would continue. I know it is happening now and I would like that it would continue. I think it is even more important in a situation where there is a range of sanctions which could be implemented by a court that this range of sanctions would be implemented in a reasonable standard way, allowing for all the differences of the cases which appear in courts right through the State.

This committee of inquiry will certainly, I am sure, be very helpful in this area and will explore these ideas and will come up with recommendations which can form the basis for policy. I am indicating here how wide I perceive the terms of reference to be especially under term of reference (a). Term of reference (b) is: to evaluate the adequacy in capacity and range of the existing accommodation for prisoners, particularly for female prisoners and juvenile detainees, and the planned additions and improvements to it. It is worth looking at the situation as it stands at the moment. There are a number of prisons in this country. Obviously they date from different periods and the structures are different and the regimes in them are different. Frequently there is a different type of prisoner in each one.

We have, for example, two very high security prisons where generally the practice is that members of subversive organisations are contained. These prisons have put a tremendous strain on the prison system in this country. The two more substantial prisons, Portlaoise and Limerick, have been and are being used for the containment of subversive prisoners. This has caused tremendous pressure on space in other institutions. It has brought about the problem that two prisons which in the normal situation could [368] be used for the containment of criminals guilty of ordinary crime are now being used in a situation where they are not available for that purpose.

We have prisons like Mountjoy, prisons like St. Patrick's Institution for younger people. Then we had the open centres like Shanganagh, Shelton and Loughan House. There is movement between these. Prisoners can be moved from St. Patrick's to an open institution. I make the point, first of all, simply to enumerate the accommodation available and to draw the House's attention to the fact that there is a range of accommodation available and that somebody sentenced to a particular institution does not necessarily serve the whole sentence there.

Within the prison system there is a variety of regimes which one can experience; so, it is difficult to say this is the typical Irish one; this is the typical situation in an Irish prison and this is a typical day in the life of an Irish prisoner. It is impossible to categorise in that way because there is not a typical one. If alternatives to imprisonment are not found, the inadequacy of accommodation in the sense of it not being able to accommodate the number of people who are being sentenced to prison will need to be examined by the committee of inquiry.

I am particularly concerned about the accommodation available to female prisoners in Mountjoy. It is inadequate. While I am awaiting the report of the committee of inquiry into the prisons it would be wrong of me to use that as an excuse for inactivity and inaction. This committee is not to be seen as the Minister handing his problems to a committee and doing nothing until the committee reports. As many Senators know, there is a building programme in Clondalkin to provide a prison for women and for juvenile offenders. That is under construction at the moment. I am not prepared to wait either until adequate accommodation is provided there and simply use that as an excuse for doing nothing in Mountjoy. It is the policy of my Department in this year to refurbish and reconstruct the women's prison in Mountjoy so that better [369] accommodation is available for the women imprisoned there.

One of the problems in the prison system which has been getting most publicity in recent times is the number of people who are being shed prematurely from the prison system. That is a cause for concern. The public expect that if people are sentenced to prison they will serve an adequate proportion of their sentence before they were released. Some of these people would not be in prison in the first instance if there was an adequate range of alternatives. I hope that the Community Service Order Act will help in that direction. Over the last 15 months, approximately 400 extra people have been accommodated in the prisons. There is a public desire that people who are sentenced would be accommodated.

The next term of reference is: to examine all aspects of the regimes observed in the institutions and the facilities available to prisoners and detainees on their release from custody. There are different prisons. There are different regimes in different prisons and consequently it is impossible to give a two sentence account of what the typical regime is. As the system is evolved it seems that the policy for many years now has been to contain people in as humane a way as possible as a priority and secondly, to rehabilitate them. I would like the committee of inquiry into the prisons to examine these objectives. There are a number of other objectives which people could list as being appropriate objectives to a prison system. There are a number of objectives which Senators have mentioned previously. As in the other terms of reference, what I am indicating is the scope which the committee of inquiry have to investigate, to report and to make recommendations. I hope they will concentrate on the regimes within the prisons. I do not propose to deal with the regimes within the prisons in any major way tonight. I am not here to defend the regimes. I am not here to give an account of the regimes within the prisons but, by and large, people in our prisons are dealt with in a humane way. I hope the committee of inquiry will examine the regimes and that [370] they will make appropriate recommendations.

Senator Higgins mentioned a figure of £36,000 used in 1976 for education in prisons. I came across it in one of the reports. There are fairly widespread educational services available in the prisons now.

Mr. M. Higgins: If I might help the Minister — a previous Minister for Justice criticised that figure and I corrected the figure on the record.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): I accept that. I just mention the point that a figure of £36,000 was not at any stage the relevant figure because it referred to everything except teachers' salaries which is the main cost in education.

Mr. M. Higgins: It was the only comment on a valuable piece of work that Deputy Collins did when he was Minister for Justice.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): There is a variety of regimes available in the prisons at present. There is a variety of educational opportunities available but the term of reference here is specifically wide enough so that the committee of inquiry can inquire into the regimes in the prisons and make recommendations.

The last term of reference deals with the number and the deployment of the prison service staff, the management structure relating to the operation of the institutions; the recruitment and training of prisons service staff and staff management relations in the prison system. That area is important also. For some years past there has been an industrial relations problem within the prisons. We had a very clear example of it which culminated in an agreement between the Minister and the Department of Justice and the Prison Officers' Association in late 1983. It is important that the committee of inquiry would examine these matters. It is particularly important because the peace clause in that agreement will last until there is a report by the committee of inquiry into the prisons on these particular aspects, especially on the staff-management [371] relations in the prison service.

I have asked that the committee of inquiry would report at an early date on these matters. I hope they will be enabled to provide me with a full report in two years. If they are not, I will be looking for a report on staff-management relations within the prison system because that is an important part of it.

The one aspect of the prison system which is not included in the terms of reference is an examination of the causes of crime. Everything else is included in the terms of reference. The committee will be quite free to examine everything I have ranged over and more because there is no attempt to tie the hands of this committee of inquiry.

Many criminologists have written many learned papers on the causes of crime in any society. The one thing I have noticed about them is that they are not conclusive. There is no general agreement on why there is a particular level of crime in any society. Some people have argued that there is a direct relationship between crime and poverty, but that would be to ignore the fact that the vast majority of poor people are never in trouble with the law and many people who are in such trouble are quite well off.

People also have drawn what I regard as fairly facile conclusions that because we have a high level of unemployment in the country we must have a high crime rate as well. It may be the coincidence of two phenomena, not necessarily that one is the cause of the other. There are various theories about why there are very high levels of crime in society, but from what I have read — I will have to be convinced otherwise — there is no general agreement among the experts on what causes crime.

Mrs. Robinson: Or what is crime?

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): I do not believe that a committee of inquiry would come forward with an agreement on the causes of crime. I would just draw the House's attention to——

[372] Mr. M. Higgins: I would like the Government to initiate such a study.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): I would like to make one final point. It is a quotation — I will give the bones of it — which might be of relevance.

The only British Royal Commission in history to fail to complete its task was one set up in 1964 to inquire into the prison system. A third of its members resigned within two years convinced that no set of general principles for the foundation of penal policy could be found. The commission was then dissolved.

This may serve as a warning in regard to the difficulties to be faced in discussing the underlying rationale of prisons as distinct from day to day questions of management and conditions. The only British Royal Commission in history to fail to complete its task was the one into the prison system in 1964.

It has been argued here that the terms of reference of this committee of inquiry are too restrictive. They are not restrictive, as I have pointed out. I freely admit that they do not deal with an examination of the causes of crime in society. It was a quite conscious decision by me that they would not because, as I said at the outset of these remarks, I want a committee of inquiry that will come forward with a report and will make recommendations on which I can base policy. It would be very difficult for them to do so in any reasonable period of time which would be of any benefit to the problems facing this society if the terms of reference were any wider than they have been drafted and as I have explained here to this House tonight. I am sorry for not getting an opportunity to hear further contributions of the Seanad tonight before I actually replied to the debate. I can see already from some reactions that I have stimulated a number of Senators, and I will sit here and listen to Senators' contributions.

Mr. B. Ryan: This is probably my first speech without notes, but on the prison system and the adequacies and inadequacies [373] of the prison system I could probably speak for two hours without any notes. I am quite sure that the Minister has been criticised, and fairly wrongly, for inadequacies in the committee of inquiry into the prison system. Let me surprise him by saying I will, to some extent, come to his defence, because at least he set up a committee of inquiry into the prison system. Furthermore, by the appointment of the chairman, he has guaranteed to my satisfaction that that committee will make their own independent report and will not be weighed by opinions from various authorities depending on their status or otherwise in society. I have, on a purely personal level, the height of regard for the chairman of the committee of inquiry. I have disagreed with him about many things that we discussed when he was a Member of this House. That never interfered with the fact that I regard him as one of the most impressive people, in terms of intellect, ability and personal integrity. I am perfectly satisfied that his committee will report to the best of their ability. I am also quite impressed with some of the members of the committee — those whom I have some personal contact with. I am not at all satisfied that his committee will produce only one report, I have fairly strong suspicions that there may well be majority and minority reports dissenting on virtually every issue. I have enough faith in Fr. Peter McVerry to be sure that the views that I hold will be fairly well articulated.

There is an element of close to the ludicrous in the way our prison system operates. To give an example, I have a number of friends who, through their own omission to pay a series of petty fines for petty offences, were about 18 months ago arrested to be sent to Cork prison for the necessary two weeks, one month or two months. First of all, they had to be sent to Limerick prison, because Cork prison is an annex of Limerick prison. Limerick prison was full so they were sent back to Cork. Cork prison was full so they were sent to Dublin to Mountjoy. It turned out that Mountjoy was full so they were given train tickets and sent back to Cork free. I did a quick calculation [374] that the cost of escorts and the cost of travel cost the State about £1,000. The point I am making is that there are a large number of crimes which by their nature and by the nature of the people who commit them end up with people being, by default, confined to prison. For all the offences that are associated with the Vagrancy Act, when people are fined £1, £2 or £5 and quite understandably may neglect to pay the fines they are then either confined to prison, ignored or abandoned.

There is something in what the Minister said about the prison system and about the causes of crime which is a little bit too trite. I agree that there is no clear universal agreement about the causes of crime. There are differences between what causes crime in affluent Sweden and what causes crime in a poverty stricken country in South America. There is a difference between what causes crime in the United States of America, without a welfare state, and what causes crime in Sweden with the welfare state. There is yet again a difference between what causes crime in this country, with an inadequate welfare state, a large young population and spiralling unemployment, but the fact that the experts cannot agree is not a reason to ignore the question of what causes crime.

We have to do what we can to find out what causes crime. While it may be true, as the Minister says — I am sure it is — that the vast majority of poor people never come into contact with the law, it is equally true, and even more demonstrable, that the vast majority of the people in prison are poor and are not just marginally poor but are appallingly poor. The vast majority of prisoners are effectively illiterate. A large number of them are innumerate. Most of them lack any skills. Many of them can only be categorised as unemployable. Many of them have drink problems. Many of them come from families with problems of marital breakdown and family violence, and many come from families where there is a long history of criminal activity. Most of them come from areas which are clearly, and without any shadow of argument, identifiable as deprived.

[375] In the canons of logic it does not prove that poverty causes crime, but it quite clearly proves that those who come before the courts and are convicted of crime are by and large poor. As Senator Robinson quite rightly interjected, that might well be because a large number of white collar crimes are not the sort of thing that people end up being sent to prison for. That is another side of the values of our society. That does not avoid the issue that those who are in prison are poor, those who are in prison are those at the bottom of our society, and those who are in prison are those who have least and have got least. Whether their poverty caused their crime or not is not the critical issue. The critical issue is that those who are in prison are people who, by definition, in a caring and compassionate society could be regarded as least culpable for the offences they committed because they had least to gain from our society. They have got less from our society than anybody else. They had not availed of the services that the rest of us take for granted. They had lived in housing that none of us would dream of spending a night in. Many of them are effectively homeless. That is the truth of the matter about crime.

I cannot prove that proverty causes crime but we can prove beyond any shadow of doubt that those who end up in prison are poor. This ought to underline and qualify the whole philosophy and attitude to people who are in prison. Therefore, the Minister's most regrettable remarks during the admittedly outrageous problems in Mountjoy Prison, that the people who were in Mountjoy were the sort of people — I gather the Minister was quoting Shakespeare — who would cut your throat in a church and walk away smiling, was an offence to the vast majority of the decent people in Mountjoy prison who were there for petty offences and who would never, by and large, raise a hand to anybody in their lives.

I understand why the Minister would say this on the spur of the moment but I, as a person who has a certain commitment to those in the margins of our society, [376] do not believe that even prisoners, who are so far outside the canons of normal behaviour justify a Minister making a remark such as this about them. It was not in the Minister's character to say so. It does nothing to help to develop an enlightened approach to our prisoners. The number of people in our prisons who could be regarded as potentially violent, outside of Portlaoise prison, which we would all accept is a rather exceptional prison, is quite small. The number of those who could be regarded as a serious threat of the kind the Minister indicated is even smaller.

The one common characteristic of those who are in our prisons is that they are poor and are outside the structures of our society and they have suffered most and, even in times of affluence, they have got least and in times of recession they suffer most. They are the least likely to be employed and the most likely to be unemployed. They are the least likely to avail of education, the most likely to leave school before they are 15 years of age. They are the least likely to have a skill and the most likely to be unskilled. They are the least likely even to be numerate in a society where numeracy is taken for granted. They are the most likely to be without even the basic skills of addition, substraction, multiplication and division. They are the people in our prisons and the people who need to be considered not just as a remedy to the fears of the rest of society about crime but as a group who, by any standards, are marginalised and a specific and needy group in our soceity.

I hope that the Committee of Inquiry into the Prison System will address the problem in those terms and not in terms of prison as some sort of retribution for society. When a lot of the rhetoric of prisons is taken away we know that prison is not a deterrent. I would like to hear the Minister's views as to whether prison is a deterrent. There is a fairly overwhelming amount of evidence, both academically and from my own experience, that whether an offence carries a sentence of three months, six months or two years, it is of minimal deterrent value to those who are liable to [377] commit the offence. The major deterrent is the possibility of being caught, not the subsequent penalty. In this context, therefore, the whole idea of prison and increased prison sentences as a remedy for our crime problem is inconsistent and inconclusive and does not stand up to objective analysis.

There is, therefore, a minority of people who must be kept in prison to protect society from them because they are a threat to society and because they are dangerous. The evidence of the sort of things people are sent to prison for suggests that a large number of our prisoners do not come into that category. Therefore, one has to come to the conclusion that people are in prison so that society can be seen to be exacting retribution for crimes that people have committed. That is very close to getting our own back on people for the crimes they have committed.

We need to look very courageously and imaginatively at the whole idea of whether prisons work. Would our society be that much more crime-ridden if we did not have large numbers of people suffering custodial sentences? If the community service order scheme were extended dramatically and in large numbers to almost all of those who are in prison for sentences of less than 12 months would the crime rate be that much different? I suspect it would not because I do not believe that prisons work.

It is a rather extraordinary fact that our prison service is costing us about three times as much as the total amount of property stolen in any given 12 month period. It is an ironic fact that we could deal with the same people at considerably less expense, but there is a problem as to whether society, as it presently stands, would tolerate such a method of dealing with crime. There appears to be at the back of it all an element of necessary retribution, that we have to be seen to be doing something to those people who do something to us. If we are to develop an enlightened attitude to prisoners and to those who commit crime, we have to think of much more imaginative remedies that prison.

[378] When something close to one-third of all indictable offences are attributed by the gardaí to people aged 17 or less, then the uselessness of prison in dealing with a large part of our crime becomes even more apparent. When we realise that that section of our society is increasing rapidly and it is quite likely that if crime is attributable to them, it will become more frequent, and even more so, alternatives to prison will have to be examined. When we look at the allocation of funds within the prison budget the minute sums that are allocated to anything other than the payment of salaries for prison officers are quite frightening.

We have the most policed prison system in Europe, with more prison officers per prisoner. One would think we had the most frightening crime rate in Europe. At the same time the Institute of Public Administration, a State agency, are advising the American students who are now working with many Members of the Oireachtas that Ireland is a relatively crime-free place where they can walk safely on the streets. At the same time we are spending more per capita on prisoners than virtually any other country in Europe, not on rehabilitation, training or education, but just on keeping them there for no purpose other than that we believe they need to be kept there, for no better reason than we have no other ideas.

Prisons do not work. They are there because society cannot think of a better way of dealing with people who break the law. There are, and there must be, better remedies, and underlying it all must be the fact that, in a particular way, prisoners are important because they are the most extreme manifestation of what it is to be poor. They are the poor most manifest in our society. They are the poor who probably cannot cope with their poverty. They are the poor who are most affronted by the inequalities of our society and who have suffered to the extent of no longer being able to cope because of bad housing, bad education, poor skills, lack of literacy and lack of numberacy. When all the thumping is finished about crime and law and order it will still be the poor who will end up in prison [379] unless we really begin to look not just at academic arguments about what causes crime but at the fact that most prisoners come from bad housing and therefore we must deal with this, that most prisoners come from poor educational backgrounds and, therefore, we must deal with poor educational services, and that most prisoners are innumerate and illiterate and we must do something about this if they must be in prison, while they are in prison. This is the way forward to deal with our prison system. It is the courage to become compassionate to a group who are most unpopular in society. That is what political leadership is all about, to be compassionate and caring where there are no votes and where there is no popularity and the popularity lies in the other extreme, because the other extreme provides no solution.

Mr. Robb: I wonder, in our discussion on our prisons, when the committee of inquiry report, whether there will be some place laid aside for contributions to be made by the prisoners themselves. When we talk about the unemployed we very often do not have at our table for our deliberations representatives from the unemployed. We very often have representatives from the employed. When we talk about the mentally disabled, as we often do, we invite contributions from the people about whom we are talking in order to increase our awareness of the problem. Not only do we need to get inside the prisons and the prison system but we also need to try to get inside the prisoners. We could also give the prisoners an opportunity to get inside us, what is inside us that wishes to designate a certain section of society as criminal and to isolate them. To what extent is that necessary? What are we doing about the causes? What are we doing about the condition in which we have placed them, and what are we going to do when we reintegrate them?

The first question I should like to ask is — I am sure not all TDs and Senators have been in a prison — out of what type of social background and what type of social condition does a prisoner come? [380] We want to know what actually happens in the prisons. We want to know what happens to the prisoner as a person as a result of the time he is in the prison. We should also like to know — perhaps this is more important than all the others — how does society react when that person comes out of prison? Do we have enough knowledge and sufficient awareness? In order to have the knowledge we must have research. Is there in any of our universities a department of criminology? Has anyone considered setting up such a department so that we can at least obtain knowledge and relate that knowledge to what is happening elsewhere in the world and start studying the causes and effects of crime, the results of incarceration in prison, the effects of imprisonment?

With regard to awareness, it comes back to what I have said so often in this House. How are we going to give back to the people of Ireland, both South and North, a much greater sense of community so that they become aware in the community in which they live who are in prison, why they are there and what they are going to do about them when they come out? I should like to put forward a few proposals which I hope may be taken up by the committee of inquiry. Some years ago at an international congress on medical ethics, I dared to suggest that the prison doctor was on the horns of a dilemma in any part of the world where there is either social or national conflict. He is paid by the State and when he goes into a prison and has to assess not only whether the prisoner has a disease and how to prevent it but the state of health of that prisoner, his reaction inevitably, in different parts of the world to a greater or lesser degree, will be influenced not only by the fact that his employer sent him in to see the prisoner but also on how he relates to the State which has put the prisoner in the position he is in. I suggested at that time that this is too great a dilemma for an individual to cope with on his own. Yet the prison doctor is perhaps one of the greatest sources of information to the public, the families and to the rest of the medical profession that we can have in relation to [381] the health and home of the prisoner, how he is being treated and how it is affecting him inside the prison.

The point which I made at the time and for which I was greatly criticised was that we need to have a professional institution to which such a person, who may at different times and in different countries, for very different reasons, feel very isolated, can relate, so that he has a source of authority which will give him strength to come out of prison and say: “This is wrong, this prisoner is not being rehabilitated, he is suffering psychiatrically because of incarceration, he has been man-handled” and so on. I related this proposal to what is one of the central points of the medical ethic, the one-to-one relationship that should exist between the doctor and the client. It was interesting that Lord Smith of Marlowe, when President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, in his Bradford oration, made this very point, but he was making it in relation to the fact that Barbara Castle at that time was getting in between what he felt were the rights of the profession and the rights of the patient, particularly in relation to private medicine. I thought his statement on the medical ethic was excellent, but if it was excellent it must apply in every situation. I suggested that it was almost impossible, as long as prison and police doctors were left on their own, for them in states of stress, and in situations where there is social or ethnic conflict, to be able to carry out their duties fearlessly.

That brings me to the point, what sort of an institution would one consider? I am thinking in terms of it being related to criminologists — I have already alluded to the possibility of a department of criminology in one of our universities — that we should also have some means whereby the prisoner's own family doctor must be obliged by law to have access to him on, say, a two-monthly basis. We would need to have the families of prisoners represented. We would need to have ex-prisoners represented and we would need to have social workers represented. Above all, we must ensure that this institution must be completely divorced from the people who run the [382] prisons even though one would also expect, reasonably, to have a representative from those institutions, but they must not be under their control.

I also suggested in that lecture that as far as our profession was concerned it was necessary, because of the amount of torture that is now going on in prisons throughout the world, to relate this to an international network or an international federation for the promotion of health in prisons and among prisoners for their reintegration into society, and that anyone who broke the code or who was reported for breaking the code would cease to belong to that international brotherhood of medical men; that any country that could not produce the institution which would take responsibility for promoting the health and integration of the prisoner would also, after a period of trial, be suspended from that international brotherhood. I am inter-mixing two things: one, the need for a far-seeing authority to discuss the whole area of crime, prisons and the prisoner and the re-integration of the prisoner, and the other specific to my own profession and not just in Ireland but perhaps more so in other parts of the world, where he or she is more vulnerable to political pressure than might be the case from time to time here.

In conclusion, I should like to make a plea for more research. Different Senators have referred to this. We want to look into the effects of the environment, the class issue, the effects of urbanisation, unemployment, social alienation and so forth, the inconsistencies in the way in which we apply our justice, how is it that some people appear to get short sentences and others get longer. Maybe it is the luck of the draw but we need to look at that and try to understand it better. We need to make a study of prisons by prisoners and to have a prisoner input into our debate. We certainly need to insist — and this has been mentioned previously by a Senator — that the legal profession, and in particular the judges, make a positive effort to get into the prisons and to see what it is like to be a prisoner.

Finally, if we had no prisons in Ireland [383] today and suddenly thought that we must invent something new to cope with crime and violance, what would we create? I am quite certain with the degree of social enlightenment we now have that we would be interested in trying to compensate for the defects in the person who committed the crime to make him less likely to repeat that crime. We would also be trying to see how we can equip him to develop his talent so that he can go back into society with more confidence. Perhaps the best example of this was that of Jim Boyle — many of you will have seen him on television or read about him — who spent most of his life in prison until he went into a more sophisticated prison with more opportunity for self-development, with a greater feeling that people were concerned about why he was there and how he should develop as a person. He ultimately married a prison psychiatrist and only in recent weeks has been in Belfast, and perhaps even in Dublin, talking about his experience and making a plea for a much more enlightened attitude towards the prisoner and prisons.

Mr. M. Higgins: I understand I have 15 minutes to conclude, so I must use my time with more economy and more expedition than on the occasion when I moved this motion. Last week I quoted Michael Ignatieff's book A Just Measure of Pain, The Penitentiary in the Industrial Revolution 1750-1850, published by MacMillan in 1978. I want to open my summary by saying that it concludes with this sentence: “As much as anything else, it is this suffocating vision of the past that legitimizes the abuses of the present and seeks to adjust us to the cruelties of the future.” There are no more dangerous people in society than those who want to develop attitudes and responses to present difficulties out of context, out of social context, out of historical context, out of comparative context. It is with no joy that I hear so much scholarship that has been put into print in so many languages, dismissed so easily at the realistic [384] corpus of work of scholars who cannot reach agreement.

I want to begin with my more positive, not charitable but fair remarks. When I moved this motion I made reference to a tradition of lack of co-operation of the Department of Justice with the MacBride Commission in particular. Fairness requires me to say that there is a report published since, the report on The Prison System for The Council for Social Welfare, a Committee of the Catholic Bishops Conference, published in 1983, which acknowledges the utmost co-operation between the Department of Justice and the researchers involved. I equally want to acknowledge that in that report — and I did not mention it in the beginning — was the suggestion that there is a commitment to research in the number of projects actually under way on alternatives to prisons. I acknowledge those facts now but it gives me no pleasure to hear trotted out again the only comment made when the MacBride Commission's report was published, that we had got the figure on education in prisons wrong. I have heard that figure quoted more than once and I put now on the record of the House what I said in an interjection. It was the only comment of the Minister of the day to the report when it was published. I corrected it on the record of the other House and suggested that other figures, for example, part of the Estimates of the Department of Education, should be taken into account. It is not very helpful to be trotting out that old lame, daft, little pernickety criticism as a response to a genuine body of work.

As I am winding up and in so far as it has not been done so far, I want to thank my colleagues on the MacBride Commission because they have not been thanked by anybody other than those who were involved in the research community on crime. I want to read out who they are: Seán MacBride, myself, Senator Gemma Hussey, Michael Keating, TD, Dr. Mary McAleese, Patrick McEntee SC, Dr. Mícheál Mac Gréil, SJ, Matt Merrigan, Muireann Ó Briain and Una O'Higgins-O'Malley. I put my thanks at least on the record of the House to that commission for work which was done voluntarily, [385] which drew them the remark that they were a self-appointed commission, work that drew them the only single sentence comment of the Minister of the day, that they had go the figures wrong and that the figure should have been worked differently. I say thank you to that group.

I want to thank all the Senators who have spoken on this motion. I want to thank in particular the Minister who comes as the Minister for Justice who announced an investigation into the prison system. I thank him for that and I want to end this preface to my conclusion by saying that I hope that we are in days of better co-operation between those whose professional task it is to manage custody in our society and those who want simply to be allowed to investigate options, to look at the nature and causes of crime. The motion before this House speaks about a commission that would report on all aspects of crime. The Minister has acknowledged that the new Whitaker committee, which incidentally I wish success, will not investigate the causes of crime.

As a practitioner for nearly two decades in this field I must reject that there is any confusion about the question of the causes of crime. I will make it explicit. Since 1912 there is an agreed literature in criminology on the connection between the rate of unemployment, for example, and poverty and the rate of crime. No serious scholar ever said that to be poor will make you a criminal, but every serious study for nearly 100 years has said that there is a connection between the rate of poverty, the rate of unemployment and the rate of crime. The record of 100 books, of 1,000 articles, tells us that. It is casuistry to suggest that because every poor person does not become a criminal you can prove no connection between poverty and unemployment and crime. We deserve better. We deserve a proper investigation of the causes of crime.

We will read Senators' comments in the record. Senator Robinson addressed the question of the legal process — incidentally, there is no clear indication in the terms of reference that it will be examined. What of the people who come [386] before the different levels of the legal system? What of the internal mobility points between the criminal justice system? I am glad there is somebody on the committee who will have looked at that in some detail, Dr. David Rottman.

Senator Lynch spoke about the urbanisation of our society and its effect on the crime rate. Senator O'Leary made a generous supporting speech about the importance of a broad approach being taken. I was moved by Senator Fitzsimmons' comment about what happens in prisons, describing the case of a child who witnessed its father being removed to prison. Senator Robb developed the importance of a department of criminology supporting my plea for future research.

I opened my speech by saying we need to ask how did we come to take prison as an option? Historically there is a connection between the industrial society and the form of the prison in relation to the notion that you would have hard labour, but how did we come to measure time? How much of one's privacy should we take away, and for how long? There is a historical moment in which views were developed on that issue. I pose the question again; do we have prisons to punish, to exact retribution, in its worst form to see revenge take place, or do we have prisons for rehabilitation? Which are the core points of the Irish penal policy? I hope the new committee will be able to answer these questions. There has always been an easy excuse available in Ireland in relation to approaching prisons. Since the foundation of this State we have had political prisoners, but because we have had political prisoners and because there is a political element to crime and to prisons, we do not have an automatic excuse available for not publishing works, for not allowing research on prisons on a general basis.

There is a need, and I repeat it, for the new committee to report on the adequacy — obviously it is now outside its terms of reference — in the case of the Department and the inadequacy of the statistics. The Minister quoted, for example, comparative statistics. I looked at those statistics a month ago and they are quite confusing. He identified the flaws [387] in them himself; some include people on remand and others do not; flaws in international comparative statistics, flaws internally, flaws in whether, for example, the same person had been apprehended for several crimes, more than once and so on. There is a need for adequate statistics. There is a need to guard ourselves against a false apprehension as to what the true rate of crime is. I want to draw attention to John Clemens book Polls, Politics and Populism published by Gower Press in 1983. On page 65 of that book Mr. David Howell, the Conservative Party spokesman on Home Affairs, said at the Young Conservatives' Conference:

The Conservative Party will win the next election on its policies. We in the Conservative Party know [sic] very well that our policies are completely in tune with both the national needs and the national mood...

There are issues that cause the nation profound concern. Chief amongst these is the boom in crime, violence and delinquency that is so disfiguring our country...

There follows in that book a description about how the law and order issue got written into the Tory Party's election manifesto and was able to win votes. One of the reasons I put this motion on the Order Paper of the Seanad was to stop a false concern developing and to stop in its tracks the possibility of people exploiting either fear or ignorance on the basis of reaction. There is a responsibility for the media in relation to crime.

I omitted to mention Senator Ryan's contribution in which he drew attention to the poverty atmosphere in which people are apprehended, plead their case, are processed and are treated. I know the Minister who is so courteous to me in all my dealings with him will excuse me if I differ with him profoundly when he suggests in the course of his remarks that every case coming before the courts is a different case. It is not. Above all else, in the best book available on young offenders — “Youth and Justice, Young Offenders in Ireland”, edited by Helen [388] Burke, Claire Carney and Geoffrey Cook, 1981 — the figures come out again and again, they are the semi-skilled and those in lower occupations. They are people who have members of their families in trouble; they have literacy and educational problems and so on. The similarities in all those people are overwhelming. The late Ian Hart, of the ERSI, a man whose memory I so respect, showed us in one piece of work after another in the sixties and seventies that people committed crimes in groups and that the peer group was important. This tells us that you have a choice in motions of this kind, to choose to understand or to try to control.

We are living in times of high unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, times in which people are under great pressure. If you choose to control by ignoring the social setting in which you do it, you are laying the basis for revolution, a revolution that is probably justified. If, on the other hand, you seek to understand you must ask the question: why are people in difficulty? Why, for example, do we not have a genuinely interdisciplinary, interdepartmental report? I saw one piece of research three years ago which showed that in one district 80 per cent of people who came before the juvenile courts were people with school attendance problems. Could we not have intervened earlier with assistance to those families, to those communities to stop them having to come into the penal system? Unfortunately, our thinking is old and inflexible and we are in danger of alienating those who genuinely want to do research on this problem.

I hope we will begin a new era with the Whitaker commitee because it is important for all of us. Some might say that I have minimised the victims of crime. The victims of crime are not confined to a class; they are among the working class. We know, for example that the sums of money stolen to feed the drug habit are often very small. But violence is violence, and prison without alternatives is a form of institutionalised violence. To say regularly to poorer sections of the community and to the unemployed: [389] “We will contain this option, we will proceed with this option and seek to manage it better” is, to my mind, to encourage further violence.

I conclude by thanking all those who have contributed, but asking for at least the compassion of which Senator Brendan Ryan spoke, not only for the prisoners but might I ask also for respect for our scholarship, for what we know. Senator Robb suggested that we need an institute of criminology. What about the printed body of research and reflection from the first moment that a person justifies a prison? I plead with this House that always respected ideas to consider the concept of prisons. If we want to be positive, we should be thinking this evening beyond the prisons. We should be thinking about how in our hearts we can perhaps ask ourselves the question: the society for which we are asking so much control, what is wrong in its structure that we have to do this to so many people who have so few privileges?

I thank you for your concession in allowing me an extra minute. I repeat my hope: may this committee work and may it not confine itself to the terms of reference because it is necessary that it go beyond the terms of reference if we are to have any semblance of justice.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Before I call on the Minister to take the motion on the Adjournment, would Senator Dooge indicate when we will meet again?

Professor Dooge: It is proposed to adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on next Wednesday.