A report delivered by the current Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, to the Minister for Justice three months ago (only released today) identified “a litany of flawed systems” within the justice system which combined with individual lapses of judgment and ended in the death of Mr. Noel Keegan, who was assaulted on 31 December 2009. One of the most damning aspects of the report was the inadequacies found in the temporary release procedure in place within the state.
It transpired that the assailant, Martin McDonagh had been released, on temporary release, from Castlerea Prison on 27 November 2009 even though he had been convicted in Longford Circuit Criminal Court and sentenced to four years imprisonment in Tullamore Circuit Criminal Court on the 28 April 2009 and therefore should not have been at liberty in December 2009.
McDonagh's case for which he was serving a two year sentence, separate to the four year charge he had just received, had come before a review meeting in Castlerea Prison, in which the participants, including the Prison Service and the Probation Service, were unaware of this further four year sentence. He was approved for temporary release, the conditions of which were not relayed to local police or probation officers. He was in consistent breach of these terms but there no enquiry made by the authorities in Castlerea to ascertain if he was fulfilling his requirements.
The report recommended that:
· Temporary Release Forms should contain all terms of such release as discussed at a pre release meeting by all relevant agencies in clear and unambiguous terms.
· A copy of all Temporary Release Forms should be sent to all agencies having an interest in the temporary release of a prisoner particularly An Garda Síochána.
· A Register of prisoners on Temporary Release should be maintained in all relevant Garda Stations. This Register should contain the terms of the temporary release and where appropriate the signature of the relevant prisoner obliged to sign on with the dates and times of such signing.
· If prisoners do not sign on at a nominated Garda Station as required by the terms of the temporary release the appropriate prison should be notified. Appropriate protocols should be put in place to provide for such notification.
· As soon as is practicable after a prisoner has breached a term of his/her temporary release the relevant prison should deem that prisoner as being 'unlawfully at large'
The Department of Justice and Law Reform, following on from the above report launched their own investigation into the implementation of these recommendations and concluded in a document published today that new procedures had been put in place to address the recommendations:
- Details of all temporary releases will be sent by the Irish Prison Service to all of the agencies concerned with the release of prisoners.
- An Garda Síochána will maintain a register of prisoners on temporary release in all relevant Garda stations, including the terms of the prisoner's temporary releas.
- Enhanced communication linkages have been made between An Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service, the Probation Service and the Courts Service; the designation of a Garda contact point in each prison region; and cross checking of information between the Irish Prison Service and An Garda Síochána.
- The Irish Prison Service will transmit copies of all temporary release forms by email and hard copy to nominated contact persons in An Garda Síochána. The Garda authorities will ensure that designated points of contact are available to the Irish Prison Service. The Irish Prison Service will also transmit by email copies of all temporary release forms in cases with a condition of probation supervision to a central Probation Service designated contact point.
The temporary release system in the state has at times been labelled as shambolic. The numbers of prisoners engaged in the process and present within communities at any one time have been notoriously difficult to discover, giving cause for claims of a lack of transparency. There is a public perception of frustration that those who are on temporary release are getting off lightly and this is only exacerbated by this. If the recommendations have been implemented it is to be greatly welcomed.