Why not get rad­i­cal to help solve rad­i­cally bro­ken crim­i­nal sys­tem?

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - OPINION - david looby [email protected]­ple­news.ie

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.

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