A circuit court judge has said it may be pointless to send convicted criminals to prison following Justice Minister Alan Shatter’s plan to give temporary release to 1,200 prisoners over the next three years.
Judge Tony Hunt, who last year described prison as “an expensive place of last resort”, made the comments at Tullamore Circuit Court where he was dealing with two separate cases of men who committed offences while under suspended sentences.
He was deciding whether to activate the suspended sentences, but concluded there was “no point” in doing so.
“Anyone sentenced is likely to be out and about very soon,” he said, in the case of Noel McCourtney, aged 25, of Geashill, Offaly, who committed public order offences while under a two-year sentence for drug dealing.
He questioned whether people who wrote to judges looking for offenders to be jailed had an understanding that they would not be in prison for very long.
“It’s possibly a pointless exercise,” he said.
“There seems to be an accommodation problem,” he observed as he dealt with Trevor Jennings, aged 27, of Wilmer Road, Birr, who was under a two-year suspended sentence for robbery when he was caught drink-driving. “He isn’t a violent offender,” said the judge, observing that “custody appears to be reserved for violent offenders”.
The judge decided it was not appropriate to activate either sentence, but said that people who received suspended sentences must “clear off in the opposite direction” if it looked like there might be trouble.
While there was no problem with having a few drinks, that was no excuse for losing their reason, he said, and warned both men they were on a final chance.
Since he first sat in the Midlands late last year, Judge Hunt, who has imposed significant sentences on offenders convicted of child abuse offences and extortion, for example, has referred several times to the expense attached to prison sentences.
Last week observed that in the case of some prisoners, prison may be counter-productive.
He has also noted in some cases of theft and assault causing harm, that prison will not change the circumstances of the victims and that it may not always be in the public interest.
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