When life should mean life

The case last week of Gerard Kelly who was sentenced to life in prison for rape highlights a serious flaw in our justice system.

Kelly was convicted of aggravated sexual assault on a 24-year-old woman in south Dublin in 2004. At the time he had been out of prison for five months after serving six years of a 10 year sentence for raping a pregnant teenager in Dun Laoghaire in 1997.

That offence, in turn, occurred after he had returned from England where he completed an eight year sentence for rape and aggravated burglary.

Now it is absolutely clear that Kelly is serious danger to women. But you could reasonably argue that the menace he posed had been proven after the Dun Laoghaire attack.

There is supposed to be an assessment of such men to ensure that they are not a danger upon their release. Given his history you would imagine that those in charge would have erred on the side of caution and made him serve out his sentence.

The system failed in this case with devastating consequences for a young Dublin woman.

Readers of this column will know that I am not a great believer in prison as a means of sorting out society’s problems. I’m from the liberal end of the spectrum which points out that much of our crime stems from social problems such as family breakdown, poverty and exclusion, and substance abuse. For many crimes there must be a better way than prison.

But crimes of violence can’t wait for such measures. The victims of violence can’t wait.

There’s no doubt from the reports of the case that Gerard Kelly is a very disturbed individual with a disastrous personal background. He deserves compassion and I am duly sorry for the man in that he has not gained much from the course that his sorry life has taken.

I don’t want him locked up 23 hours a day or subjected to hard labour. I don’t care if he spends his time doing art courses or if he ends up in some sort of open prison.

What I want is that between now and the end of Gerard Kelly’s life that he is never again at liberty to decide whether or not he will rape a woman.

Women deserve that guarantee. But they are not going to get it.

Kelly’s life sentence does last for the rest of his life and he will probably have to serve 10 to 15 years in prison. But at the end of that time he will again be assessed to see if he is a danger to women and someone will have to make the call on whether he should be released.

When he is released he will be under supervision but essentially there will be a chance that he could attack women again.

I think that he, and others like him, shouldn’t have that chance.  By some means, whether electronic tagging or living out his days in a compound, he should not ever be a physical risk to women again. 

There is also the question of Kelly’s treatment in prison which must be indicative of how other prisoners are dealt with in our system. He spent some fourteen years in jail in Ireland and England and his underlying proclivity for sexual violence was not altered one iota over all that time.

And then he was released. 

There’s something wrong there, surely?