21st December 2019
This Christmas, 113 prisoners will be granted varying periods of temporary release under the Criminal Justice Act 1960. This figure represents less than 3% of the number of people in prison custody. This is the lowest number given temporary release at Christmas since 2008, and comes at a time when prison numbers have been steadily increasing.
Upwards of 6,000 children in Ireland have a parent in prison on any given day. Christmas is one of the most difficult times of year for prisoners and their families. Physical separation from loved ones may be an inevitable consequence of the deprivation of liberty, but that does not lessen the impact for children and families.
Temporary release plays an important role in prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration. Maintaining relationships with families and communities is one of the strongest protective factors against reoffending after release from prison. Facilitating family contact with people in prison and through temporary release over Christmas plays a part in this. The vast majority of prisoners return to prison as arranged, and in recent years there have been few if any "failures to return" to prison.
Christmas Temporary Releases 2008-2019
Christmas releases in Ireland
In Ireland, temporary release from prison over Christmas can range from a few hours, sometimes accompanied by a responsible adult, up to 7 days, with various release conditions attached. Prisoners are more likely to be granted temporary release if they are: engaging with prison services; on enhanced regimes; have complied with conditions on previous periods of temporary release; and are coming towards the end of their sentence. Those who fail to adhere to the conditions of their temporary release can lose earned privileges on their return, including, for example, transfer from an open prison back to a closed institution. Prisoners who are not granted temporary release include newly committed prisoners, prisoners on remand (pre-trial) and prisoners from other countries whose families live abroad.
In 2019, Department of Justice & Equality has noted that many of the prisoners being released are nearing the end of their sentences. The periods of release vary from a few hours up to 7 nights, and are subject to stringent conditions. Any offender who breaks these conditions may be arrested and returned immediately to prison by the Gardaí. The Department further notes that sensitivities of victims have been taken into account, and additional specific conditions apply in relation to cases with significant victim impact. All registered victims with the Irish Prison Service victim liaison service will be informed in the cases where prisoners are receiving Christmas Temporary Release.