A fifth of prisoners on temporary release to ease overcrowding
ALMOST one-fifth of the country's prison population was on temporary release at one point last year as authorities struggled with overcrowding.
Records obtained by the Irish Independent revealed that 942 inmates were out on temporary release at the same time.
And although the situation has eased since then, some 672 prisoners remained out on temporary release yesterday.
The details emerged as Justice Minister Alan Shatter prepares to publish the Prison Service's annual report today, which is expected to show a slight decrease in the number of prison committals for the first time since 2007.
The levelling off in committals comes despite the number of people being sent to prison for minor offences, such as failing to pay fines, remaining high.
Just under half of people in custody are serving sentences of a year or less, a situation which last week prompted Mr Shatter to rap judges for sending too many minor criminals to jail instead of ordering them to carry out community service.
It came as separate figures released by the Council of Europe showed that during 2011 Ireland had the eighth highest rate of entry to penal institutions at 380 per 100,000 of population. But it also had the second highest release rate, after Montenegro, at 376 per 100,000 of population. Of these 29.4pc were released during the pre-trial stage and the rest were released after sentencing for various reasons.
Yesterday there were 672 prisoners on temporary release, and of those around 200 had been jailed for not paying fines.
A further 115 were out on the community return scheme. This is for prisoners – including drugs offenders and robbers – sentenced to between 12 months and eight years.
Once they have half of their sentence served, they can apply for temporary release, with the remainder of their sentence converted to community service under the supervision of the Probation Service.
They can be immediately returned to prison if they breach the terms of their release.
Assurances have also been given that serious criminals are not being given temporary release.
However, fears remain over the extent of reoffending.
For example, earlier this year one professional burglar was caught breaking into a house just hours after being given temporary release.
He was charged and put back in custody.