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Ferris, Anne

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Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

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Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

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Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

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Senator


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Deputy Anne Ferris

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Anne Ferris

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Snippet Contents:

I welcome the opportunity to speak about this very progressive legislation. The Bill is one which, when enacted, will allow those who have made mistakes in the past the opportunity to move on with their lives. Last week, as Vice Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, I visited Midtown Community Court in New York, which deals specifically with citizens who are in court having committed "quality of life" offences. I asked what these offences were and was told they included, among other offences, spitting, jumping turnstiles, graffiti, being drunk and disorderly and shoplifting. Instead of sending these offenders to prison, they are given community work to carry out. A dedicated judge deals with these cases and if the offenders carry out their community work and do not reoffend for six months, their cases are dismissed and records sealed. Midtown Community Court also deals with each individual on a personal basis and has social workers, clinicians and other professionals to help people deal with their problems.
I also met four Supreme Court judges who strongly advocated the community court model. They each specialised in certain areas, for example, drugs, mental health issues or war veterans; therefore, offenders coming before the courts appear before the judge appropriate to their own situation. The system aims to treat the person, rather than just pass sentence for committing a crime. In addition, I visited John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where I heard from the director and other professionals teaching community outreach programmes how community courts could be more effective than simply locking up offenders and throwing away the key. This progressive way of treating people who have committed minor crimes is something from which we in this country could learn.
That said, I am happy the Minister has pursued the Bill and commend the work that has gone into it. However, while I am pleased with the overall intent, there is space for improvements. The Mercy Law Resource Centre has raised a number of further issues that I would like to see addressed. As I am sure the Minister knows, it is an independent law centre and charity which provides free legal advice and representation in the areas of housing and social welfare law for persons who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Research undertaken by Focus Ireland and PACE illustrates that the relationship between homelessness and crime is complex. Homelessness did not inevitably lead to criminal behaviour among the sample researched.