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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 24 May 1989

Vol. 390 No. 5

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Early Release of Prisoners.


asked the Minister for Justice the number of prisoners who were given early release in the last 12 months; the number of those who were the subject of supervision for a period after their release; and the percentage remission of prison sentences those releases represented over that period.

The Annual Report on Prisons and Places of Detention gives details of the number of instances in which temporary release is granted and the most recent year for which this report is available is 1987. These statistics in relation to 1988 and this year will be compiled in due course. Statistics, however, are not available which would show the relationship between temporary releases and sentences or which would show the number of releases where conditions relating to supervision by the Probation and Welfare Service or reporting to the Garda Síochána were imposed. These could be compiled only by the expenditure of a disproportionate amount of staff time.

The number of offenders on temporary release on a day-to-day basis is, of course, recorded. The average daily number on release over the past week was 308. This can be compared with a figure of 315 for the same period last year.

I am at a loss to know why the Minister should feel it is not worth while compiling statistics which in the end might prevent people from remaining in prison at the very high cost of £600 a week. Is the Minister satisfied that there is no correlation between those who are given temporary release and the problem of recidivism? Is he satisfied that the lack of supervision of those who are released has no bearing on the continuing criminal habits of those who have been in prison at least once?

Statistics generally are very useful and the statistics mentioned would also be useful, but the gathering and collating of these statistics would take a great deal of time. If computer programmes can be developed which could link them in, that would make the information more readily available. I have noted what the Deputy has said in that regard and will convey her views to the Minister. The decisions are related to the nature of the offence, the length of the sentence served, behaviour while in custody, previous criminal history and the Garda view of the likely threat to the community which a particular release might involve. These are among the factors taken into account. Conditions are established which relate to the different circumstances. That is the way the system operates. More information on the actual combinations would be helpful.

Would the Minister not agree that the public perception is that the over-riding reason for early releases is overcrowding in our prison system? We have spaces for only about 1,600 prisoners but we have over 2,000 prisoners accommodated in prisons and places of detention. Would the Minister not agree that this is the over-riding reason for early releases and that there is no scientific reason behind it. Would he agree that this will continue to be the case unless further probation and supervisory facilities are made available?

The Deputy is injecting new matter into the question.

It is important to make clear the criteria used. I accept that there can be pressure but certain criteria are used in all circumstances. Obviously there is greater flexibility if there is adequate space. The opening of the new detention centre at Wheatfield will help to ease the pressure in that respect and the flexibility which it will provide within the service should be helpful.

When is Wheatfield to be opened?

On 13 June.

It might be put back a week.

We have a habit of getting on with the job.