‘Low-level dealers get big jail terms’

TOO many low-level drug dealers are being handed down long sentences while criminal bosses continue to escape from the law, it has been claimed.

Liam Herrick, director of Irish Penal Reform Trust questioned if the right people were being sent to jail.

Mr Herrick was commenting on the latest statistics from the annual prison report, published last week, which show the number of people serving a sentence for drug offences in 2009 was 760, 34% higher than in 2008. They made up 22% of the prison population

Of those figures, more than 610 were sent to prison for more than three years, with 301 sent for 5-10 years, and 119 for more than 10 years.

Mr Herrick said sending more people to jail should not be the barometer of success in the justice system.

“We need to ask whether imprisonment is the most effective way of preventing crime – and on that score all the evidence suggests that this is a hugely expensive and ineffective approach.”

A look back at some cases on the new sentencing website, launched earlier this month, shows the trend began some years ago.

In 2007, the website cites two cases where people were sentenced to 10 years for possession with intent to sell or supply controlled drugs in excess of €13,000. One of those had no previous convictions.

Another area of concern highlighted was the ongoing difficulties with controlling drugs behind bars.

In 2009, methadone treatment increased by 20% to 2424 people. There was also a 10.4% increase in the numbers of new entries to treatment.

The IPS has cared for over 20% of the total numbers on methadone nationally.

According to the report, it is the policy of the Irish Prison Service that prisoners who, on committal, are engaged in a methadone substitution programme in the community will, have their treatment continued while in custody. Prisoners can discuss with healthcare staff other treatment options which may include stabilisation on methadone maintenance for those who wish to continue with treatment while in prison and when they are released.

However, the report warns, as treatment places in the community contract, arranging access to these community places is becoming more challenging.


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