Why not get radical to help solve radically broken criminal system?
THE criminal justice system in Ireland is a joke. When people talk about our courts it’s usually along the lines of, ‘the law’s an ass’. It flows from the top down. There is mistrust in the courts, in how offenders are prosecuted; in the manner in which they are treated in jail; in the rehabilitation drug users get, in how serious offenders are let out on parole to commit more crimes and how the ordinary Joe or Mary Soap is targeted for having a nodge of hash or for having committed a petty crime.
I no longer cover the district or circuit courts but memories of eight hour plus sessions are seared into my consciousness. Much of the crime was petty; some serious. One of the things about covering court I recall most are the minute books and the lists. Often, while sitting down to the start of a day at court, I was confronted with an 11 page list of defendants names, which didn’t include the family law cases going on in the judge’s chambers.
Last month the Chief Executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre Noeline Blackwell highlighted that it is taking two to three years for rape cases to be heard, which is not alone causing deep distress to rape victims, but also lessening their ability to make a case. Ms Blackwell said some people drop out of the legal process because of the delay.
She said victims can’t move on with their lives and may have difficulty remembering details of the attack.
Meanwhile proposals to liberalise the laws on cannabis and other illegal drugs are expected shortly. The plans envisage a move to providing drug counselling, addiction treatment and other health interventions for many users found in possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use.
However, they will stop short of ‘fullblown’ decriminalisation of the personal possession of drugs and some criminal sanctions are expected to remain on the statute book.
At the Kennedy Summer School Festival of Irish American History Culture & Politics last weekend, District Attorney for Suffolk County, Massachusetts, Rachael Rollins spoke about her revolutionary move to free up the courts by not prosecuting 15 low level offenses and in doing so allow more court time for dealing with her area’s opioid crisis.
A straight talking Irish American, Rollins has shaken the judiciary to the bones in the process. She defended the move at the Kennedy Summer School, saying: ‘I’m slowing down a system that is flying at 100mph to arraignment and then screeches to a slowdown. People with a criminal record aren’t able to get a job, or housing or access to healthcare.’
She said poverty precludes people from getting the best representation in court.
Renowned Boston Glove journalist Kevin Cullen said: ‘Here we are in New Ross where Patrick Kennedy sailed from and his great grandson became President of the United States. The perception that everyone in America is equal is a myth.’ Rollins said her audacious initiative is about addressing poverty, but also class, calling on politicians to treat every one with respect and grow up.
Although Ireland is not Suffolk County – with its spiralling murder rate – there is clear sense in at least looking at changing how our courts and how our society can help rehabilitate offenders instead of shoving a Playstation controller or Sky TV remote into their hands.
District Attorney for Suffolk County Rachael Rollins with journalist Kevin Cullen.