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Social Crime: A Social Solution Not A Punitive One


Too often we hear from the conservative elements of our society and media that the best way to deal with street crime is harsher sentences and more prisons, but wait has that worked anywhere? America is renowned for it’s no nonsense approach to crime, it is also renowned for highly organised and violent street gangs, if the death penalty has no power to dissuade people from a crime such as murder, what sentence will?

We, as a European society tacitly understand that crime’s origins lie in a number of mitigating social ills, inequality, poor housing estates, bad education, yet when something happens, a particularly nasty crime or maybe just one close to home, our immediate reaction is “more prisons, tougher sentences, hang the fecker!”. If we kept consistent with our default position we would realise that to sort out a problem, its beginnings is where the focus should be not its outcomes. I’m not saying we don’t need prisons, I’m saying more focus should be placed on vulnerable groups in our society now.

Let’s play out a hypothetical situation, our protagonist will be called “Shane”. Shane grows up in Finglas, an area of social deprivation by the state standards, he’s a normal baby, he becomes a child who loves football, the same as any other boy his age. Shane’s father has an alcohol problem, his mother dreams of one thing and one thing only, leaving the family and getting away. Shane is given no real support and contrary to encouragement, must take on the role of protecting his younger siblings. There is no real expectation of him to achieve anything from anybody.

The pressures of his home situation mount, he becomes anxious, alone, depressed and eventually he cannot take it and runs away. After a few nights on the street, where he is neither safe or comfortable, he is placed in a hostel. In this hostel, he is surrounded by kids who have been homeless for long periods, other kids who have major problems due to familial upheaval and all the while surrounded by drugs and the prospect of an uncertain future. Sooner or later he succumbs to the depressing reality of his situation, he takes drugs, he steals to feed his habit, he goes to Patricks then to Cloverhil or Wheatfield or Mountjoy, he is hardened, the chances of his successful rehabilitation deplete with each day.

The above story could be written a hundreds time over in this city. How do more prisons or harsher sentences solve this problem? The child is essentially corrupted well in advance of entering the system, their psychology damaged but not irreparably. The print media and its concentrated ownership would have us focus on the outcome, the crime, the criminal (what an evil thug he is). This leads us to become reactionary, unjust and ultimately, not practical, as we send down another person at great expense to the public purse and with a large chance that they might reoffend anyway.

So what is the alternative?

We reconceptualise the problem. A strong social service negates the need for a punitive justice service. With a strong social service given the power to intervene and find a solution with the family (cases of young criminal rehabilitation were the family have played a large supportive role are more likely to succeed) such people as our “Shane” character might be able to start anew.

Should a family based solution fail and the child cannot reasonably expect to return to the home then we must look at their housing options and social support in general. The hostel system is not the right environment for anyone trying to make an honest go of things. The people in such a place are still heavily surrounded by drugs and are not given the support they need during the day. In such cases, apartments (I believe the state has recently come into some property 😉 ) with monthly counselling sessions perhaps compiled with community employment schemes with educational opportunities could be considered.

The point is we pour huge amounts into a justice system when better outcomes can be achieved for both the person and society as a whole, if we thought about the situation with foresight and empathy and less of an immediate thirst for vengeance.

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Fountain News DigitalThis article was originally published in:
Fountain News Digital – May 2011 (Issue 4)

We are re-publishing all articles from our past newsletter, Fountain News Digital, and you can view all completed newsletters here. There were nine issues published in total between 2010 and 2012.

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