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MEDIA ADVISORY: Reforms needed to ensure fair and transparent systems of early release for prisoners

22nd October 2012

IPRT MEDIA ADVISORY

Decision-making around the release of life-sentenced prisoners should be removed from political control, structured and incentivised early release should replace the current overuse of temporary release, and remission should be increased from 25% to 50% for those serving sentences of less than 5 years. These are among the clear calls for reform of prisoner early release mechanisms made on the launch of the IPRT Position Paper on Reform of Remission, Temporary Release and Parole on Monday 22nd Oct, 2012 in Distillery Building, Church St, Dublin 7.

IPRT recommends that a single ‘Early Release Act’ should be enacted to overhaul the current systems of remission, temporary release and parole. The main elements would include:

i) Remission: should be increased to 50% for sentences under 5 years; and 33% for sentences over 5 years but with an enhanced 50% for those who demonstrate engagement with services as part of incentivised regimes. These increases would bring Ireland into line with rates of remission in jurisdictions such as Scotland, England & Wales, New Zealand and France.

ii) Short-Term Temporary Release: a more transparent system of temporary release setting out clear criteria should be used for compassionate release, weekend release (maintaining family relationships) and day-to-day release for work – all of which support better reintegration of prisoners following release. It should not be necessary to use temporary release in an ad hoc manner to manage prison overcrowding.

iii) Earned Early Release: the principle of the recently introduced Community Return Scheme should be expanded to create incentives within the prison system for prisoners to engage constructively with services. Systems for deciding on early release should be open and transparent and prisoners should have a rights to challenge refusals for release.

iv) Parole: IPRT is calling for an independent statutory Parole Board to be established and to take over decision-making on the release of life-sentenced and long-sentenced prisoners.  Among the many recommendations under this heading are: removing the role of the Minister in decision-making on release of long-term prisoners; extending the remit of the Parole Board to include early release applications of those sentenced 5-8 years; setting time limits for when parole hearings must take place; and giving a right to legal representation before the Parole Board.

v) Pardon: The Minister for Justice should consider making use of the right of pardon and the power to commute or remit punishment to bring the prison population within the safe custody limits recommended by the Inspector of Prisons. One suggestion is to remit (partly or in full) and/or introduce an amnesty for some or all fines defaulters to ease pressure on strained prison resources.

Speaking on the launch of the paper, IPRT Executive Director, Liam Herrick said:

“At present the biggest obstacle to the prison system operating effectively is the chronic overcrowding throughout the system. At the same time, for many prisoners there are no clear guidelines as to what they must do within prison to address their offending in order to move towards release. While recent efforts to divert minor offenders away from prisons are important, our current system of deciding when prisoners are released is most urgently in need of change.”

“IPRT believes that our current systems of remission, temporary release and parole afford too much discretion to Government and should be replaced by more open and transparent systems of release, in line with the principles of due process and fairness. We also believe that a more structured and fair system will help identify an increased number of prisoners who can be safely released back into the community. Reform along the lines we propose will create a more incentive-driven system, reducing overcrowding while also improving community safety.”

IPRT Position Paper on Reform of Remission, Temporary Release and Parole was launched as part of a Prison Law Seminar on the implications of obligations under the ECHR in reforming parole processes. Speakers at the event included: Mr. Tony Kelly, leading Scottish human rights and prison law solicitor, who has used the ECHR to challenge the parole process in Scotland; and James Mehigan BL, whose practice focuses on criminal defence, extradition and prison law.

For all media enquiries, please contact: Fíona Ní Chinnéide, IPRT Communications Officer on 087 181 2990

1. NEW: IPRT Position Paper on Reform of Remission, Temporary Release and Parole

The 24-page position paper details:

  • The current mechanisms for early release in Ireland, including: remission, temporary release, and release of long-term/life-sentenced prisoners.
  • Early release systems in other jurisdictions
  • The implications of Ireland’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights
  • Recommendations for reform, including:
    • Reform of Remission, including increasing remission rates
    • Proper use of structured short-term Temporary Release
    • Expansion of Earned Early Release schemes
    • Parole Reform, including independence from Government
    • Making use of the Ministerial power to pardon collectively

This paper is available to download here.

2. Prison Law Seminar: Parole Reform and the ECHR

An IPRT Prison Law Seminar took place 5-7pm on Monday, 22nd October at Distillery Building, Church St, Dublin 7 on the topic of ‘Parole Reform and the ECHR’.

Speakers at the event included: Mr. Tony Kelly, leading Scottish human rights and prison law solicitor, who has used the ECHR to challenge the parole process in Scotland; and James Mehigan BL, whose practice focuses on criminal defence, extradition and prison law as well as other areas of public and human rights law as they relate to the criminal justice system.

The presentations are available for download here.

3. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) | www.iprt.ie

IPRT is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort.