IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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IPRT welcomes Minister's proposals to increase use of early release

8th August 2011

The Irish Times reports that Minister for Justice Alan Shatter is considering releasing long-term prisoners early as a way of controlling worsening prison overcrowding.

The article reports that Minister Shatter has asked senior officials to review a proposal that would see inmates who are serving long sentences released early to free up space: “I have asked my officials to look at a scheme where suitable long-term prisoners might have the last period of their custodial sentence replaced by a form of community service,” he said. The measure has been proposed as one of a number of strategies to address the chronic overcrowding which exists across the Irish prison estate.

Among the criteria that are likely to be used when considering a prisoner for early release are: the potential risk posed by an offender after release; the willingness of the offender to engage in rehabilitative programmes during his/her time in prison; the category of offence committed; and the impact of the prisoner's release on victims and victims’ families.

IPRT welcomes this proposal, which was one of a number of measures to tackle overcrowding that IPRT presented in our submission to the Review Group on Thornton Hall.

IPRT believes that the prison population can be brought within safe custody limits by releasing some prisoners serving sentences earlier; this can be done in a safe and structured way with some reform of the present parole process, which would be preferable to the current relatively unstructured over-use of the temporary release (TR) system. (TR should continue to play its intended and important role in assisting the re-entry of long-term prisoners into society.) Reform of parole and temporary release can have an immediate effect in terms of relieving current demand, but it can also have a longer impact by creating a more incentivised prison system for longer-term prisoners.

Other options which might be considered include a general increase of remission levels from 25% to 33% (as already provided for in legislation); a targeted increase of remission for certain categories of offenders; or the establishment of a transparent administrative scheme to allow prisoners apply for enhanced remission where they can demonstrate constructive engagement with services. IPRT has also recommended the establishment of an independent parole board, removing parole decisions from political control.

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