Repeat offenders and the justice system

Midlands Prison. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Midlands Prison. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien


Sir, – We all want what Brian Cullen wants: less crime and safer communities (November 10th). However, his proposed solution, to increase the severity of sentences for people who repeatedly commit offences, is ill thought-out. We have an example to consider in the penal culture of the United States of America. Introduction of severe sentencing policy, including “three strikes” and a mandatory minimum, has had dire consequences there. As resources from a finite pool got pulled from essential services, communities did not become safer and crime did not reduce. But the prison population increased dramatically. The daily US prison population stands at over two million people today.

Prison is not the panacea to recidivism; in fact someone being repeatedly imprisoned highlights the limitations of imprisonment. Roger Tarling, in a 1993 study, estimated that a 25 per cent increase in the prison population would reduce the overall crime rate by just 1 per cent. The solution therefore is not to do more of the same.

The profile of a person in prison provides a key and ultimate solution to the problem of recidivism. The majority of our prisoners have not committed serious offences, they have been failed by the education system and left school early; failed by the health system and not had their mental health supported or been given access to drug treatment; failed by the housing system and been left having to access emergency accommodation. Improvements in social services so that someone who leaves prison is supported in addressing their needs in safe accommodation would provide a longer-lasting solution to recidivism. Yet, for a substantial number of people leaving prison, all they can expect is one night in an emergency homeless hostel and the possibility to join waiting lists for drug treatment and mental health services.

The solution to breaking the cycle of recidivism is significant investment in our social services not more prison places. – Yours, etc,


Deputy Director,

Jesuit Centre

for Faith and Justice,

Upper Sherrard Street,

Dublin 1.