What is parole?
Parole is a discretionary type of conditional release from prison that allows a person to serve some of his or her sentence in the community, under supervision. The parole process also serves as a sentence management tool. For example, if a request for parole is denied, the Parole Board can advise a prisoner what can be done to maximise their rehabilitation efforts and increase the prospects of release in the future. Risk assessment is a key component of the parole review process.
When someone is released on parole, although they are released from prison, their sentence is not over. Conditions imposed continue to apply for the remaining time of their court-imposed sentence; or for life in the case of life-sentenced offenders, who can be recalled to prison at any time.
Who is eligible for parole?
Currently, the Parole Board reviews the cases of prisoners sentenced to determinate sentences of 8 years or more (but less than 14 years) at half sentence stage. Prisoners sentenced to 14 years or more, including life, are reviewed after 7 years have been served. Prisoners serving sentences for certain offences are excluded from the process. In practice, the first review by the parole board at the seven-year point is the beginning of a review process and not the point of release. An average of 18 years was served in prison by life-sentenced prisoners granted parole in 2017.
What’s the purpose of temporary release?
Temporary release plays a very important role in the gradual and supervised re-entry of an offender to the community. Temporary release of people serving long sentences usually begins with a few hours in the company of an officer, and gradually increases over time to longer periods and unaccompanied.
Parole is a form of full temporary release, which ends the custodial portion of a person’s sentence - unless he or she is recalled to prison for any reason.
The most important consideration for parole or other temporary release mechanisms is the protection of society. A gradual rather than sudden re-integration to the community is in the best interest of both the public and the offender.
Temporary release promotes meaningful engagement with services and regimes inside prison, and supports more successful reintegration of prisoners back into the community, including allowing for prisoners to engage in training and employment in the community. Temporary release also allows for the identification of difficulties for some offenders making the transition from custody to the community.
Myth-busting: How is parole currently being used in Ireland?
- In 2017, of those then serving a life sentence in prison in Ireland, a total of 34 had served 20+ years. Of these, 13 had served 20-25 years; 7 had served 25-30 years; 12 had served 30-40 years and 2 had served over 40 years (Irish Prison Service, 2017)
- 21 life sentence prisoners were recommended for parole by the Parole Board in 2017; the Minister accepted all of these recommendations. Of these 21 prisoners, 3 were women and 18 were men. 8 of these had no previous convictions before the conviction resulting in their life sentence (Parole Board, 2018)
- By October 2018, 14 of these prisoners had completed the gradual reintegration process and were released on parole. The average sentence served by each of these 14 life-sentenced prisoners was 18 years (Parole Board, 2018)
- Figures for breach of parole conditions are not available in the Parole Board Annual Report 2017, but of life-sentenced prisoners released in 2016, 4 were returned to prison for breach of licence conditions. The Chairperson of the Parole Board said the reason for these returns was mainly linked to substance misuse (Parole Board, 2017)
In Ireland a life sentence does mean life, and a person serving a life sentence is released from that sentence by way of reviewable temporary release, following a thorough risk assessment and recommendation by the Parole Board. The person remains on licence, and can be returned to prison for any breach of conditions, for the remainder of their life.
Want to know more about parole and parole reform in Ireland? See IPRT Position Paper 9: Reform of Remission, Temporary Release and Parole (Oct 2012) and IPRT Briefing: Parole and Temporary Release of prisoners serving long sentences (Oct 2016). See also IPRT Submission on the Parole Bill 2016: Report stage (Feb 2018).
 The term ‘parole’ in the Irish context is used to refer to the temporary release of longer-term prisoners. However, there is currently no statutory definition of parole in Ireland.
 Note: Persons serving determinate sentences are also entitled to 25% remission (though this can be cancelled for disciplinary reasons). Persons serving life sentences are not eligible for remission. While parole/temporary release are a form of release on licence, remission marks the complete ending of the sentence.