Saturday 21 September 2019

Prisoners to face 12-year wait to apply for parole

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Conor Feehan

Conor Feehan

Inmates sentenced to life in prison will have to wait at least 12 years instead of seven before being considered for parole, according to new legislation being considered by the Oireachtas.

Victims or their families will also have a greater involvement in the process to decide when a prisoner is freed.

The ultimate decision on release would also shift from the justice minister of the day directly to the parole board.

Speaking at an Irish Parole Board conference yesterday, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the Parole Bill is at an advanced stage of hearing.

It was first introduced as a private member's bill by Fianna Fáil deputy Jim O'Callaghan in 2016 and went to committee stage last year.

The Government has accepted the bill and hoping to expedite it after some technical amendments.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan spoke yesterday. Photo: Damien Eagers
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan spoke yesterday. Photo: Damien Eagers

"There is no question but that parole is a sensitive issue.

"Like so many such issues, it's about trying to find a balance - a balance between the rights and needs of victims, of offenders, and indeed of society," said Mr Flanagan.

As things stand, the board may review the cases of prisoners with specified sentence lengths of more than eight years but less than 14 when the prisoner has served half of the sentence.

Sentences of 14 years or more, or life sentences, are reviewed after seven years.

Prisoners serving sentences for certain offences, such as the murder of a member of An Garda Síochána or Prison Service in the course of their duty, are excluded entirely.

The board advises the justice minister of the prisoner's progress to date, the degree to which the prisoner has engaged with the various therapeutic services and how best to proceed with the future administration of the sentence.

The minister consider all recommendations before making the final decision.

Under the proposals, the board would be established as an independent statutory body given responsibility for granting parole to eligible prisoners.

It also sets out the criteria to be considered in doing so, such as risk to public safety and the extent to which release will facilitate the prisoner's reintegration into society.

"The bill also sets out the terms for eligibility for consideration for parole, including a proposal to raise it for life sentence prisoners, to a minimum of 12 years served," said Mr Flanagan.

"In respect of victims, the bill provides that where a review or hearing has been scheduled, the board will give notice to a victim (or their family) that such a review is pending, and will prepare and send the victim an explanation of the process and an account of how they may participate.

"The right to make submissions or give oral evidence to the board is also included, as is a provision for legal representation."

Irish Independent

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