PRACTICALLY THE only female offences that attract widespread media and therefore public attention are murders committed by women, Ms Justice Catherine McGuinness said yesterday.
The president of the Law Reform Commission was launching a report on women in the criminal justice system published by the Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development. The report contained contributions to a conference on the subject in Dublin last October.
Ms Justice McGuinness said too many women were sentenced to six months or less for minor offences. “Short prison sentences achieve nothing and are counterproductive as far as the womens lives and families are concerned.”
She pointed out that one of the contributors, Prof Lorraine Gelsthorpe from Cambridge, criticised a lack of inclusion of women in community service orders.
Ms Justice McGuinness also pointed out that Dr Azrine Wahidin of Queen’s University Belfast found that the needs of older women in prison were neglected. Most women in jail in Ireland have experienced homelessness and abuse, and many suffer from addiction and mental health problems, Janice Kelly and Maria Mulpeter of the Dóchas Centre said.
They found more than one-third of female prisoners suffered from a mental illness, a higher rate than among male prisoners. This did not include those suffering from personality disorders and addictions. They had multiple needs, and needed therapeutic care.
Dr Paula Maycock and Sarah Sheridan of Trinity College interviewed homeless women and found one-quarter had spent time in prison. All of them experienced domestic violence and reported substance misuse or dependence, with heroin and alcohol featuring most prominently.
This group also reported mental health problems and significant physical health problems including hepatitis C, HIV and tuberculosis.
Dr Christina Quinlan said of the 1,000 women in prison during her study, only 12 received media attention, all of them for committing sensational crimes.