There's a very critical op-ed piece in this morning's Irish Times written by Donncha O'Connell, dean of law at NUI Galway. He describes the package of anti-crime measures approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday including provision for extended detention of suspects for up to seven days, judicial guidelines to be applied in the context of bail, drawing adverse inferences from the exercise of the right to silence by suspects in custody, and provision for increased sentences based on prior convictions as "rebottled wine".
Michael McDowell has delivered the curse of the answered prayer to an Opposition clamouring for "more of the same but sooner" and excited his own battalions in the run-up to the PD pre-election conference.
Everything is reduced to the battle of the sound bites and while "while the chorus of party political agreement will be passed off as a reflection of common sense, it is, in reality, an unthinking, media-driven consensus that is doomed to fail". The question is posed "is all of this a solution in search of a problem?" O'Connell acknowledges that that "there is a worrying rise in violent crime orchestrated by what are loosely called criminal gangs" but that "more of the same laws do not, however, constitute an effective solution". One problem I have with this piece is that O'Connell gives us no clue how to quantify or distinguish between the the actual increase in certain types of crime and what the media-driven consensus contributes to this allegedly distorted picture. I've no doubt he's largely right about the media, it's just that I'd like to see some evidence and research.
O'Connell refers to the panel on the Frank Luntz Week in Politics programme recently where people were worried by crime but admitted no direct experience of it. He then expresses disappointment that the very politicians who once declared that they would be radical or redundant "don't lead by isolating the root causes of crime, applying radical solutions instead of pandering to the second-hand fears of those who admit to having no direct experience of crime".
My second problem with the article is that the author gives us no clue to what he believes are the root causes of crime. While he makes a general point about preferring leadership to "followership", there is no reference to a substantive alternative to the macho posturing and populism that he condemns. Apart from some vague references to "area of criminal injuries compensation, victim advocacy in trial processes and the less glamorous area of restorative justice", that's it. Like O'Connell I am uneasy about the unthinking whittling away of essential civil liberties. But I would like some alternative perspectives that deal with fundamental causes of crime and what a reformed criminal justice system would be like. If anyone could point me towards such alternative body of thinking or practise I'd be grateful.