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Thursday 20 June 2019

Inmates in two open prisons most likely to get Christmas release

Signs: Minister for Justice Charles Flanagan
Signs: Minister for Justice Charles Flanagan

Alan O'Keeffe

Prisoners to be released for a few days this Christmas will be freed mainly from the State's two open prisons.

Any prisoner serving a life sentence will have already served most of their sentence before being transferred to join other inmates in an open prison.

"The vast majority of prisoners who would get Christmas temporary release would come from the two open centres, Loughan House in Co Cavan and Shelton Abbey in Co Wicklow," said an Irish Prison Service spokesman. "They are the most suitable for temporary release.

"There are no big high walls. Nothing to stop a prisoner from walking out the front gate. It's wide open. They are there on trust and they know if they breach that trust, they will be back in a closed prison.

"Some people would get a couple of hours out on Christmas Day while others might get a full week," he said.

Last Christmas, 142 prisoners were granted varying periods of temporary release, which represents around 4pc of the prison population.

Each temporary release comes with very stringent conditions. All prisoners returned to custody in line with their conditions of release.

The overriding concern when considering the applications is "the safety of the public".

The spokesman told the Sunday Independent: "All prisoners are eligible to apply for temporary release for Christmas or for compassionate release.

"There are a whole lot of factors we would look at: the length of their sentence, the length of time they have served, the length of time left to serve, their behaviour, have they engaged with the services, have they been involved in any negative issues like drugs or mobile phones or fighting. A whole host of factors are considered."

Each temporary release comes with very stringent conditions.

He said there would be cases of people serving life sentences getting temporary release for Christmas but it would come "close to the end of their sentences", he said.

The average length of a life sentence is currently around 18 years.

Minister for Justice Charles Flanagan signs an order which grants a person temporary release.

The Prison Service does not disclose the identities of prisoners receiving temporary release.

There are currently 4,000 inmates in the Irish prison system, which has a capacity for 4,269 prisoners.

The Victim Liaison Service notifies the victims of the crimes committed by individuals if those prisoners receive temporary release at any time during the year and they are also informed of their final release dates. But this information is only given to victims who specifically request to be kept informed of a prisoner's status within the prison system, he said.

Of the 368 prisoners who are flagged as victim liaison cases, 172 of them are life sentence prisoners.

Releases are much more structured than in the past and they now involve participation in various courses after inmates receive their freedom.

Sunday Independent

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