Written Answers. - Temporary Release of Prisoners.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

180 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the total number of prisoners who have been released without serving their full sentence in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15563/98]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

181 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of prisoners who have been granted early release on grounds other than good behaviour in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15564/98]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

182 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of prisoners who have served less than their required sentence under the law in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15565/98]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 180, 181 and 182 together.

It is not possible to provide the precise information sought by the Deputy in the time available. However, the daily average number of persons on temporary release over the past 12 months was approximately 516. In 1994, the latest year for which accurate figures are available, 3,733 individuals were granted full temporary, or early, release and 217 were discharged from custody on a renewable temporary release scheme. Exact figures for later years are not yet available.

The granting of temporary or early release — called parole in other jurisdictions — is a feature of prison systems internationally and has been operated under statute in this country since 1960 by successive Ministers for Justice. The positive and negative reasons for the system have been well debated in this House before.

I acknowledge that some early releases arise due to prison overcrowding. This has been the case for several years. However, it would be wrong to suggest that serious offenders are being released simply because of accommodation problems and without reference to other criteria. The extensive prisons building programme will provide 2,000 extra prison places. On completion this programme will address the deficit in prison accommodation and alleviate the need to consider granting temporary releases to offenders because of a shortage of prison accommodation.
Before granting temporary release careful consideration is given to a number of factors, including the nature and seriousness of the offence. The overriding concern when decisions are being made in individual cases, is the safety of the public.
It is long-standing policy, however, that persons serving sentences for serious crimes such as sex offences, importation or supply of drugs, armed robbery — including robberies where a syringe was used — and other cases involving serious violence are not granted periods of temporary release except in very exceptional circumstances.
Prisoners are granted temporary release for a variety of reasons ranging from a few hours to attend a funeral to full temporary release or early release, which is, in effect, our system of parole. Parole, a feature of prison systems world-wide, is an important vehicle for reintegrating an offender into the community in a planned way. In addition, it must be said, that in a substantial number of cases the timing of the consideration of a prisoner for temporary release may be affected by pressure on prison accommodation.
Each case of early release is considered on the basis of the views of the governor of the institution in which the offender is imprisoned, the Garda Síochána and, if relevant, any recommendations of the Sentence Review Group, taking into consideration such matters as any threat to the community which might arise, the nature of the offence, the offenders' behaviour while in custody and any compassionate grounds which might merit special consideration.