1,200 prisoners to get early release in jails shake-up
Twelve hundred prisoners are to be let out of jail to work in the community over the next three years as part of a new structured programme of temporary release.
The radical move has been sanctioned by the prison authorities while they await the outcome of a review of automatic remission of a quarter of a sentence for all prisoners.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter said yesterday he did not want to pre-empt the outcome of the review, but hinted that automatic remission may be replaced by a new scheme to encourage inmates to behave and co-operate with rehabilitation schemes behind bars.
At present 85 prisoners are taking part in a pilot project before the community return programme is rolled out nationally.
Under the scheme, inmates will earn temporary release and will be released early if they pose no threat to the public and have completed a large portion of their sentence.
Prisoners serving a sentence of between one and eight years will be eligible for the scheme.
Although there is chronic overcrowding in some prisons, officials said the new measure, revealed yesterday during the publication of a three-year strategic plan for the Prison Service from 2012 onwards, was aimed more at improving the prospects of reintegration for criminals and reducing the number of repeat offenders
A study of 2,632 offenders released by the Irish Prison Service in 2007 after serving a sentence of 12 months or less showed that 49pc of them re-offended within a year of the end of their sentence.
Crime categories where recidivist offenders are most common include theft and public order and social code incidents. Mr Shatter said the prisons were not intended to be mere warehouses for criminals and he wanted to see increased emphasis on rehabilitation.
It is now intended to sign a deal with a community-based organisation to provide a programme of support for the short sentence prisoners to help them with housing, medical care, substance abuse, employment and training needs.
It is also planned to increase the number of long-term and life-sentenced prisoners being reviewed for parole.
The focus this year and in the first quarter of 2013, the plan said, will be on reducing the chronic overcrowding in Mountjoy, Cork, Limerick and the Dochas women's centre.
The plan showed there had been an increase of 32pc in the numbers in custody over the past five years, from 3,321 in 2007 to 4,389 last year.
But the number in 2011 rose by only 0.8pc, compared with 11.4pc, 13.8pc and 13.6pc in the previous three years.
At the same time, the number of prison staff had dropped from 3,350 to 3,310 by the end of 2011.