Prisoners on life sentences serve average of 17 years
A TOTAL of 62 prisoners serving life sentences are back in the community, under the supervision of the Probation Service, a new report has revealed.
The offenders were allowed out of jail after a review of their cases by the Parole Board, which then made recommendations to the Justice Minister.
The figure is disclosed in the board's annual report, which points out that a "life" sentence, on average, means spending 17 years behind bars.
Board chairman John Costello said a life sentence meant "life" and after the offenders had been released, they must face supervision in the community for the rest of their lives.
Some 286 prisoners, or 7.75pc of the jail population, are serving life sentences while another 285 are serving sentences of at least 10 years.
Mr Costello said the steady increase in offenders receiving sentences of five to 10 years, mainly in relation to drug offences, was worrying and many of them would have their sentences reviewed by the Parole Board in due course.
The board reviews the case of prisoners serving fixed-term sentences of eight years or longer. Efforts by the prisoner to rehabilitate are taken into account by the board when deciding on a temporary release.
Recommendations were sent to the minister in 79 cases last year, of which 72 were accepted in full.
The report showed that the cases of 66 prisoners were referred to the board during 2010, a drop of 21pc on the previous year. But despite the fall, the board's workload rose by 13pc because another 195 cases were carried over from 2009.
Mr Costello, who became chairman during the year following the death of the long-serving Dr Gordon Holmes, said the board made a significant contribution to society and its total cost to the State last year was less than €400,000.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter said he intended to bring in legislation to place the parole board on a statutory basis.
He said this would help to strengthen and improve its functions and, in that context, he would consider what role it would play and what powers would be available to it.
Almost half of the 48 prisoners asked to take part in an interview process with the board were serving sentences for murder or manslaughter while another nine had been convicted for sex offences.