Written Answers. - Crime Prevention.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

28 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if the policy of zero tolerance as articulated by his predecessor is still in operation; if not, the reason therefor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16993/03]

This Government has one fundamental strategy in the area of criminal justice which is to ensure that the gardaí will be given the resources to investigate and prevent crime, the courts will be well equipped to deal effectively with criminal cases, and that there will be sufficient prison places to ensure that those convicted of crime will serve their sentences.

The Government is prioritising Garda recruitment and training to bring it up to its authorised strength of 12,200 as soon as possible. In accordance with the agreed programme for Government, these extra gardaí will be assigned to the areas of greatest need. The number of gardaí will be higher again as soon as budgetary circumstances permit the Government to make progress towards the target of 14,000 provided in the programme for Government for achievement by 2007.

Tackling crime effectively requires that the courts are equipped to provide speedy and efficient trials. Overall support for the courts has been greatly improved in recent years by the establishment of the independent Courts Service. The Courts Service has devoted a great deal of effort to streamlining the administrative supports for the courts including the introduction of modern IT systems where appropriate. A recent very important initiative taken by the Courts Service Board was the establishment of a working group which is undertaking a root and branch look at the organisation of our courts. The group is to examine any necessary changes to allow for the fair, expeditious and economic administration of justice – including the creation of new, or the alteration of existing, jurisdictions.

The situation in our prisons has been transformed since 1997. In the past a persistent high level of overcrowding resulted in the granting of release in an unstructured manner to many offenders at an early stage in their sentences. The construction of over 1,200 new prison spaces in recent years has effectively ended that situation. Six years ago, a total of 19% of the prison population was on temporary release. In 2003, that proportion has been reduced to 8%. Alternatives to custody are being developed and utilised, where appropriate. In this context, greatly increased resources have been made available to the probation and welfare service in recent years.
The Government has introduced legislation, as required, in areas such as public order and liquor licensing, and will continue to do so.
There can be no doubt of the progress made to date in the area of crime and no doubt of our continued commitment to maintaining and improving our criminal justice system throughout the lifetime of this Government.