A Waterford TD’s bill aiming to toughen sentences on people convicted of assaulting an older person has been criticised as ineffective.
Fianna Fáil’s Mary Butler is calling for a minimum three year sentence for any adult convicted of the offence.
It was introduced in the Dáil earlier this summer and Deputy Butler says if passed it would recognise the pain caused by burglaries on people over the age of 65.
But Waterford Institute of Technology’s law lecturer Dr Niamh McGuire says it won’t have much impact: “The key way it seeks to deter people is by threat of longer prison sentences. I guess the problem with that is that it’s not particularly effective in stopping people doing it again. We have research in Ireland that shows that people convicted of burglary, once they are released 60% of them re-offend within two years. If you compare that to those given a probation order or a community service order, it’s a much lower degree of recidivism, only 41% re offend.”
Dr Niamh McGuire says the bill is short-sighted. “Punishment already happens. Punishment does need to happen, but you need to be thinking ‘what happens after punishment?’ Even if this bill goes ahead, and people get minimum sentence of three years. How much more violent are they? How much more dispossessed are they? How much more willing are they to go out and do this offence again? What we really need is to think a little more cleverly and creatively about actually, what are we actually going to do to stop people doing those things?”
She says the Assault on Older Persons Bill is too simple an approach to violent crime. “Everybody likes to hear somebody being tough on crime. There’s a difference between being tough on crime and being effective. We’ve had 10 years of austerity, all of our social services have been completely depleted, voluntary organisations – their funding has been cut by 40%, yet they’re the ones that are on the cold face. I think it’s just an attempt to be seen to be doing something. The approach you need to take is much more complex, much more time consuming. Perhaps that’s why people opt for the easy options, which is the political soundbite of this bill.”