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One man’s prison hell is another’s holiday park: Murderers like Graham Dwyer should not get perks

What privileges are there for the dead, asks criminologist John O’Keefe, who says Ireland must become a society that places equal respect on both offender and victim.

John O'Keeffe

WE ALL HAVE one moment in our lives that changes us – at least that is how the narrative of a good life goes. Mine occurred in London over 20 years ago.

I attended a homicide group’s meeting at the invite of a committee member. In the bar afterwards I spoke to man whom had lost his son Peter to murder.

Peter was sitting for his A levels and cycled to a friend’s house to borrow some notes. He was met by two men, one of whom asked for money. Before he could react, Peter was stabbed without warning in the neck – his carotid artery severed. He died alone on the street within minutes.

A mere two hours later, Peter’s father was identifying him in a local morgue. Peter’s hands still felt warm, his father told me. He cradled him in his arms as he had done 17 years earlier when he was a newborn. His reason? He felt that as long as the warmth of his body was next to his son’s, he could convince himself that he was still alive.

Peter was his only child.

And that ladies and gentleman, is how homicide plays out. Now please hold the reality of how families of homicide victims typically say goodbye to their sons, daughters, husbands and wives.

Ireland’s most infamous murderer 

Consider now the current position of Graham Dwyer, one of Ireland’s most infamous murderers. As evidenced at his trial, Dwyer is literate so can manage to badger prison authorities more than most when he feels an injustice has been served on him.

As a result, it would appear that he has been successful in ensuring that his new girlfriend can visit him even after some previous altercation she had had with prison officers. Victoria Andreenkova has since managed to secure a seismically-disturbing love-bite’ which she was delighted to subsequently show to the assembled media.

image2-15-390x285 Victoria Andreenkova with 98FM's Adrian Kennedy. Source: 98FM

Dwyer has also been granted the facilities to begin studying for a further degree. He has his own personal shower and use of a laptop. He enjoys three square meals a day (with dessert) and the use of a gym should he decide to increase his arm muscles.

In one sense we shouldn’t concern ourselves with how prisoners “enjoy” prison or not – this will always be a subjective exercise. The reality is that one man’s prison hell is another’s holiday park.

Ireland’s life sentence

The core problem, however, in Ireland today lies somewhere else. It is that we offer murderers a seven-year minimum term – the artist curiously known as a “life” sentence.

Once seven years have passed, a murderer has his sentence examined to see if they can be released. In recent years, this has rarely occurred but it remains a possibility. At worst, a murderer can expect to serve perhaps 14 or 15 years in prison.

Some will barely serve double digits while only one or two will stay inside for 30 years. Until we have minimum starting tariffs for murderers in Ireland (as in England and Wales), this farce will never recede.

Meanwhile, the court of public opinion then has to watch in horror while feral savages such as Dwyer enjoy a lifestyle in prison that many on the outside cannot afford.

Prison privileges 

These privileges are essentially automatic. Although they may be revoked for bad behaviour, they do not generally need to be earned. Provided you avoid trouble you will receive them. In the land of the one-eyed justice system, the degree holding or muscle-bound Mary is always King.

We need to revisit our sentencing practices – specifically as they apply to homicide. No civilised country would ever let a man murder three people and get the same sentence as if they murdered one – but that is exactly what happens in some other cases in this ill-informed, bleeding-heart Republic.

In our febrile rush to prove how liberal we can be, we then gift murdering savants like Dwyer the type of benefits that many cannot enjoy on the outside. That’s not equality – it’s insanity.

Ireland must become a society that places equal respect on both offender and victim, yet we appear to imagine that this can only be achieved by fainting at the altar of criminality.

In the absence of civilised sentencing practices and guidelines, do not be surprised if Joe Public starts asking for prison privileges to be withdrawn and begins baying instead for the reintroduction of birching and flogging for murderers like Graham Dwyer to redress the balance.

Shocked at the very idea?

I wondered how long it would be before you forgot Peter’s father.

John O’Keeffe is a Criminologist at Trinity College, Dublin and Chief Executive of AdVIC (Advocates for the Victims of Homicide)

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John O'Keeffe

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