Dublin: Long-Term Prisoners May Be Freed Because Of Jail Overcrowding

8 Aug

MINISTER FOR Justice Alan Shatter is considering releasing long-term prisoners early as a way of controlling worsening prison overcrowding.

The radical proposal is being reviewed at a time when almost 750, mostly short-sentence, inmates are already afforded early release because there is no room for them in overcrowded jails.

A Government-appointed expert group last month warned that 30 per cent of the 4,500 prison population will be on early release, also called temporary release, by 2016 if nothing is done to solve overcrowding.

Mr Shatter has asked senior officials to review a proposal that would mean inmates who are serving long sentences would be 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.

It is unclear what the criteria for early release from long sentences may be. The risk posed by a criminal after release, their willingness to engage in rehabilitative programmes in jail and the nature of their crimes would likely be taken into account. The impact of their release on victims and victims’ families would also likely be considered.

The proposal to release long-sentence inmates early to free up space in jails comes at a time of worsening overcrowding.

Since 2005 the number of prisoners serving sentences from five years to life jumped by 51 per cent. This group, numbering 1,480, now accounts for just over one-third of the prison population.

These long-term prisoners have effectively become the prison system’s “bed blockers”, absorbing much of the accommodation.

The average number of inmates on temporary release in 2007 was 4.4 per cent of the prison population. But that has now reached 17 per cent, or between 720 and 750 inmates on any one day.

While the releases are referred to as “temporary”, they are in fact “early” releases. The inmates are not required to return to prison after a set period of freedom, as is the case with traditional temporary releases.

Already, temporary releases from Cork Prison have reached 35 per cent because of a lack of space and 21 per cent of the population of Mountjoy is on release because there is no space.

Related

Prisons are playing down overcrowding, studies show | 08/08/2011

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