EIGHT prisoners serving sentences for manslaughter or murder are currently in an open prison, the Irish Independent has learned.
The Irish Prison Service said six of these prisoners were jailed for murder -- including notorious killer Malcolm Macarthur -- and two are serving time for manslaughter.
All eight are in Shelton Abbey in Co Wicklow.
Last week, there were 110 prisoners in Shelton Abbey in Co Wicklow and 101 in Loughan House, Co Cavan, from where convicted garda killer Martin McDermott escaped in March.
Open prisons are in place to help inmates nearing the end of their sentence make the transition to the outside world, according to the authorities.
Inmates are held in rooms instead of cells, with no bars on the windows, less barbed wire and high walls, and with no guards standing post at the front gate.
Prison sources say public safety is paramount and authorities warn inmates that if they break the rules or escape, they will be caught and sent back to a closed prison.
"It's to prepare them for a more normal routine," a spokesman for the Irish Prisons Service said.
Garda Gary McLoughlin died after his patrol car was rammed at speed at Burt, Co Donegal, in December 2009.
McDermott was sentenced to seven years last July after he was convicted of the manslaughter of Garda McLoughlin.
His sentence had been backdated to 2009, and he would have been expected to get time off for good behaviour.
He walked out of Loughlan House in March.
A report into the escape ordered by Justice Minister Alan Shatter revealed McDermott had absconded from Loughan House in 2007 before being returned.
He also had 91 previous convictions.
The report said that a decision was made to move him to the open prison earlier this year because it was felt he would benefit from a transfer to Loughan House.
It was considered that McDermott would benefit from family visits, additional family support and further educational opportunities if he was transferred.
But Irish Prison Service chief Michael Donnellan has admitted his transfer from Portlaoise to Loughan was the wrong decision.
The garda killer was handed a four-month sentence in Northern Ireland for offences committed during his capture in Derry by the PSNI, including assaulting a PSNI officer, resisting arrest and criminal damage.
Both Justice Minister Mr Shatter and Mr Donnellan apologised to the family of Garda McLoughlin, who were said to be distressed by the fact McDermott was being held in an open prison.
Macarthur has been granted temporary release from Shelton Abbey on a number of occasions.
He has been a model prisoner during the 29 years that he has been locked up and has always abided by the conditions of the temporary releases granted to him since he was transferred in 2004 to the open prison.
Macarthur was arrested in 1982 in the Dalkey home of the then attorney general Patrick Connolly during an investigation into the murders of nurse Bridie Gargan in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, and farmer Donal Dunne, in Edenderry, Co Offaly.