Early release plan for inmates lashed by victims' families

Clodagh Sheehy

ANGRY families of murder victims have condemned plans to release 1,200 prisoners to relieve prison overcrowding.

Advic, which represents the families, has accused Justice Minister Alan Shatter of putting the financial crisis and criminals before innocent people.

Under the plan, prisoners serving sentences of between one and eight years will be released at the rate of 400 a year over the next three years -- the equivalent of one prisoner almost every 20 hours.


Mr Shatter said the scheme would be confined to prisoners who had shown they would not be a risk to the public.

Joan Deane of Advic, however, says the measure raises serious concerns for crime victims.

She said: "Anyone convicted for a violent offence should not be considered for the community release programme."

She said Advic was concerned that the initiative "seems to have been instigated simply to address overcrowding.

"Yet when it comes to the very basic issues in terms of inadequacies within the justice system such as concurrent sentencing, the Government seems incapable of action despite numerous pleas from families.

"Ireland's economic situation should not be allowed to dictate reform of the justice system."

Mr Shatter defended the policy, saying prisons were not intended as mere warehouses and he wants an increased emphasis on rehabilitation.

Prisoner numbers have increased by almost one third in the five years to last year and the Irish Prison Service has criticised the fact that the numbers working in the service have actually dropped during that time from 3,350 to 3,310.

Officials have said that the new scheme would free prisoners temporarily in return for supervised community service and that it would only be open to those who posed no threat to the community.

Mr Shatter said: "Providing we carefully select prisoners, its a win-win. It creates the possibility that some of the prisoners who are treated in this way will not re-offend."

Prisoners in the early stages of long sentences would not be eligible and prisoners would be sent back to jail if they breached the terms of their release.


The plan is part of a three- year reform plan for the Irish Prison Service which also includes targets for in-cell sanitation by August 2015.

The report says that by the end of this year almost 60pc of the cells in Mountjoy Jail will have in-cell sanitation.

Plans are underway to redevelop Cork and Limerick jails.