Wednesday 17 September 2014

A couple more jail tales

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the virtues of home education on the back of news reports about the token incarceration of Monica O'Connor for failing to send her children to school. Formally, of course, she was imprisoned for failing to pay a fine (€1000 for her and €1000 for her husband Eddie O'Neill) for that crime.  In the Spring of 2013, I expressed surprise at the dramatic ten-fold increase in the number of custodial sentences given out in the working lifetime of John Lonergan, former governor of Mountjoy Prison.  I'll have to do some more research on that data because there is an interesting counter-intuitive disconnect between the daily and the annual numbers of people in prison. This wonkiness is driven largely by a huge increase in short prison sentences given out by the Irish Justice system from 2,200 in 2007 to 8,800 in 2012. Monica was, for example, sentenced to 5 days in jail for each (N=2) of her school age children.

Later that day, I scabbed a lift of a friend to go to a Home Education meeting at a secret location in the Midlands. We're getting a little twitchy-and-paranoid because of the Tullow case and the news that another Home Ed family is having its day in court in early October.  If you're a citizen of a small town in central Ireland and noticed a dozen people arriving in separate cars sporting impenetrable sun-glasses and looking hunted and shifty as they entered a hotel on Saturday afternoon, you may have seen me.  I was the one with the orange tam-wig, multi-colored hoop-pants and enormous shoes with pom-poms.  Over the day I heard a couple of interesting stories.

A cousin of a friend of a neighbour of the chap who fixes my friend's car was fined €1,000 for a serious traffic offense.  He could not or would not pay the fine, so he was incarcerated in lieu. Accordingly a couple of Gardai picked him up at his home in Wexford and delivered him to Mountjoy 120 km away in Dublin.  On the way, they all had an expenses paid lunch courtesy of the state.  When he arrived in Mountjoy, there were no cells available, and it was easier and cheaper not to admit him so he was processed through a revolving door and sent home again.  The Gardai had time to do some shopping before they drove the perp home.  So it's not necessarily because she was a mother that our Monica was given the same treatment last week.

There is a strong overlap in membership between the La Leche League, the Home Birth Association and the Home Education Network. At the meeting on Saturday, one of the group briefly put on her LLL hat and talked about their consultancy in a case where a breast-feeding mother was due to be incarcerated. The legal position hinged on the rights of the infant in the suckling relationship. These rights should only in the most urgent and necessary circumstances be denied.  I didn't hear the full story because I was too busy eating rice-cakes (so noisy).  But that's interesting, hein?  It makes you question the whole purpose, value and necessity of prisons.  Rethinking our unconsidered certainties is always a good thing.

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