THE FORMER GOVERNOR of Mountjoy Prison John Lonergan has said people who commit social welfare fraud should not be sent to prison.
Instead, Lonergan said that the most effective way of penalising people with money and resources is through their pocket, and that the money collected could be used to help communities that are in need.
He made the comments a day after a woman who claimed over €200,000 in social welfare payments over fourteen years was sentenced to three years in jail for social welfare fraud.
“I think this particular case and some other cases raise the issue around the need for public debate about what does a society in 2012 really need in terms of punishing people who do wrong,” he told Newstalk Breakfast this morning.
Lonergan said that prison should be a last resort which should only be imposed when somebody is a risk to society.
“We do need to upgrade our thinking,” he said. “We’re obsessed that prison is the only way to penalise a citizen when they commit wrong, whether that’s a violent wrong or whether it’s a financial wrong. I just question that”.
He said Irish society needs to look at whether it should be placing large numbers of non-violent offenders in jail.
“The conviction of people in court, in public, the shame of that, the humiliation of that, is just as effective as sending them to prison”.
“I wonder are we penalising and creating problems down the road, or are we solving problems?”.
There are currently 4,401 people in prison in Ireland according to the Irish Penal Reform Trust.