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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Government warned over tougher sentences for robberies

Published 17/06/2016 | 02:30

The introduction of mandatory sentences for robbery, with violence, in the home is a key part of the programme for Government. (Stock picture)
The introduction of mandatory sentences for robbery, with violence, in the home is a key part of the programme for Government. (Stock picture)

Plans by the Government to introduce minimum mandatory sentences to tackle violent robberies in homes will not work, a leading criminologist has warned.

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International evidence suggests such laws will only have a "marginal impact" on offending levels, said NUI Maynooth senior law lecturer Dr Claire Hamilton.

The introduction of mandatory sentences for robbery, with violence, in the home is a key part of the programme for Government.

However, Dr Hamilton said Ireland was in danger of replicating mistakes made in the US where the prison population has ballooned due to hardline sentencing policies.

"The vast majority of the evidence suggests the deterrent effect of mandatory sentences on all offences, including violent and property offences, is marginal at best," she said.

Dr Hamilton said the issue needed to be "considered very, very carefully" by the Government and that it would be better served putting resources into addiction services than by introducing tougher sentences.

"The mistake people often make is thinking property offenders are thinking rationally at the time. Very often they are not," she said.

"Very often the motivation for property offences, particularly prolific property offending, is an addiction problem.

"So really what we need to do is tackle that underlying issue through treatment programmes and therapeutic type measures."

The Law Reform Commission has previously questioned the effectiveness of mandatory sentences, where discretion is removed from judges.

It recommended the minimum sentence law for drugs offences be reviewed as it led to a bulge in the prison population without any major effect on those at the top of the drugs industry.

Dr Hamilton's comments came ahead of the publication next week of the Handbook of Irish Criminology, which she co-edited.

Irish Independent

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