Massive rise in prisoners freed on early release scheme
Number of prisoners Fitzgerald lets out on 'enhanced remission' trebles
The Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has trebled the number of prisoners she has decided to release from prison early after a series of successful High Court challenges taken by inmates to cut their time behind bars by one-third.
New figures show that Ms Fitzgerald granted 64 prisoners "enhanced remission" for the first seven months of this year, compared to 22 prisoners for all of last year.
The sharp rise indicates a higher number of prisoners are asking the minister to use her discretionary powers to consider them for early release, if they meet certain conditions.
It follows a landmark High Court ruling last year which found that prisoners who qualified for the scheme had not been considered for it.
Prisoners are usually entitled to one-quarter remission on their sentences, which means that someone sentenced to four years will serve three. But the justice minister also has discretionary powers to grant enhanced remission - which is one third of a person's sentence - to those on good behaviour and who are unlikely re-offend.
Numerous prisoners complained to the High Court that the minister hadn't considered them for enhanced remission even though they qualified.
They included Ivor Callely, the former minister convicted of a €4,000 expenses fraud, who successfully challenged her refusal to cut his five- month sentence by one-third.
The former Fianna Fail minister successfully argued that while doing his time in Wheatfield, he behaved well, worked and took courses and prison governors believed it highly unlikely he would re-offend. But, he claimed, the justice minister didn't treat him the same as other prisoners who had committed more serious crimes, including a former Fine Gael councillor.
Fred Forsey, who was convicted of receiving corrupt payments, was freed after serving two years and four months. He was sentenced to six years with two suspended. Mr Callely was awarded his costs in the case last week.
The former Real IRA leader, Michael McKevitt, who was jailed for directing terrorism in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing, failed in his High Court bid for early release as did David Doody, a convicted robber who tied up a woman during a burglary.
The justice minister and the State face a number of costly litigations from prisoners who say they should have been considered for enhanced remission. Some are suing for compensation and damages.
The enhanced remission system was introduced in 2007 and last year, the justice minister clarified the factors taken into account to include the prisoner's conduct, the nature and gravity of the offence, the sentence served and the potential public threat.
A spokesperson for Ms Fitzgerald said: "The minister is strongly of the view that greater remission must be earned and the central consideration when deciding whether or not to grant enhanced remission is the extent to which prisoners are less likely to re-offend and better able to reintegrate into society."