Tuesday 21 November 2017

Calls for life-serving prisoners to be given priority housing after release

Move could see prisoners prioritised over families facing homelessness

Mountjoy Prison in Dublin (Stock Image)
Mountjoy Prison in Dublin (Stock Image)
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

The Irish Parole Board is calling for prisoners who serve life-sentences to be given priority housing after they are released.

John Costello, Chairman of the Parole Board, said long-serving prisoners need stability and housing to stop them from re-offending.

Life-sentence prisoners serve an average of 22 years. When released, they can be called back to prison at any time if they don’t fulfil the conditions of their parole. These conditions could range from not committing further offences to finding stable housing.

Mr Costello told RTE Morning Ireland that temporary housing should be provided to prisoners who are paroled until they get more permanent housing.

Do you think prisoners should be given priority housing after release?

"It works very well in practice. My concern is that occasionally life sentence prisoners may not be able to get the housing they need and it may then lead to homelessness and as a result that may lead onto criminal activity.

"Because we're talking about such small numbers that's why I'm suggesting housing priority."

Mr Costello said that the probation service would be working with the housing authorities in each area.

"My concern is that a lot of life-serving prisoners have serious mental health issues and last year we were reviewing three prisoners with life sentences and they had serious mental health issues and we felt that prison was not the right place for them yet we couldn't recommend them for parole because the support they needed wasn't available. I believe the solution is a half-way house.

"These houses have full time nurses and mental health experts running these centres."

The Chairman said that it costs €65,000 a year to keep someone in prison and that this money could be used to create a half-way house.

"Every person who is paroled, can be returned to custody. It can be a minor issue or major issue but there are 80 life-sentence prisoners out in the community who haven't re-offended and are living normal lifes. Only a few are brought back into prison.

"We don't have exact numbers of how big a problem mental illness is in prisons. It is a big problem. We've only 300/400 life sentence prisoners so it's still a small number."

Anthony Flynn from Inner City Helping Homeless said that no group should be given priority over another.

"Giving one category priority over another isn't very fair. A prisoner shouldn't get priority over a family who have been living in a hotel for months or even years.

"Something does need to be done to help prisoners once they are released but they shouldn't be given priority. There needs to be some system in place as the lack of accommodation is continuing to cause problems."

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