Justice Minister: Judges sending too many people to prison

Justice Minister: Judges sending too many people to prison

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has criticised the judiciary for sending too many people to prison.

Minister Shatter made the comment at the Prison Officers Association annual conference in Athlone.

Some 88% of those sent to jail in 2012 were sentenced to one year or less.

Minister Shatter has told Midlands 103 that it is of crucial importance that judges exercise their independent discretion.

However, he says it is desirable in the public interest that the 2011 Community Service legislation is utilised.

"There is an obligation on the courts when considering sentencing to consider whether it may be more appropriate that individuals be dealt with under the Community Service Order Scheme, and it is disappointing that it's not being greater utilised," he said.

"I hope it would be greater utilised in the future. The local community benefits from the making of Community Service Orders, the State benefits in the context of the reduction of costs within the prison service."

He also said: "Clearly there are individuals who commit criminal acts and it is appropriate that they serve sentences, even short sentences.

"But 88% of those sentenced to imprisonment last year served sentences of 12 months or less.

"I am anxious that the community service order scheme is utilised to a greater extent."

Speaking at the conference, Mr Shatter stressed that it was important judges acted independently and handed down sentences as they saw fit.

"But quite clearly, there are a number of people who are given quite short sentences who may more appropriately be dealt with under the community service order scheme," he added.

Mr Shatter said laws brought in two years ago compelled judges to consider handing down community service orders rather than small sentences to prison of one year or less.

Mr Shatter has had a number of high-profile run-ins with judges since his appointment as Justice Minister.

But he has denied interfering with the independence of the judiciary, most recently over the judges’ pay controversy.

Two years ago, he was also forced to fend off claims he was meddling in the Smithwick Tribunal.

The senior Fine Gael figure said sentencing was an important matter of public interest and he was merely commenting that he believed community service orders should be used more.

"Our judiciary must exercise their independent discretion whence determining the nature of sentences to be imposed," he said.

"But it is important that the community service order scheme is utilised to a greater extent than it is being utilised at present."

Mr Shatter added that if the legislation was not working correctly, he would consider amending it.

As it stands, the Probation Service is able to take on more people in community service programmes, he said.


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