It is best, perhaps, to begin by explaining what is meant by the term "unlawfully at large" as it could, mistakenly, be taken to mean that one is dealing with a large contingent of dangerous outlaws. The reality is rather different.
The Criminal Justice Act, 1960 under which most offenders are granted temporary release, provides that an offender who breaches a condition of his temporary release is deemed to be "unlawfully at large". The breach, however, may be of a relatively minor, technical nature, as I shall explain, and does not necessarily mean that the person concerned has engaged in any form of serious criminality.
What has emerged from a major survey carried out in the Department of Justice recently, the results of which have just become available, is that only eight individuals of those deemed to be "unlawfully at large" are persons who actually escaped having been in custody in a closed institution — the escape usually occuring while on escorts to hospitals etc. outside the institution.
A further 228 are offenders who absconded from open institutions. These are institutions which, as Deputies will be aware, accommodate the less serious offenders and in which, in accordance with long standing policy and practice, a more relaxed regime operates.
A further 784 offenders are people who had already been granted temporary release, but who were guilty of technical breaches of their release conditions. These breaches, for the most part, consisted of failing to sign-on, on a regular basis, at the Garda station or prison as the case may be, in accordance with the terms of their release conditions.
In other words 76 per cent of those who are deemed to be unlawfully at large are people who fall into that category because of the technical breaches to which I referred and 98-99 per cent of all those unlawfully at large are individuals who acquired that status either as a result of these technical breaches or as a result of absconding from open institutions.
In presenting the facts to the House in the manner I have, I do not, for one moment, wish to suggest that it is a matter of little or no concern that various individuals are deemed, by law, to be unlawfully at large, but it is important that Deputies and the public generally understand what exactly is involved.