Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Questions (317, 318, 319, 320)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

317. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of male prisoners granted temporary release since the beginning of March 2020 that have been rearrested as a result of a breach in temporary release conditions by prison in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12104/20]

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Thomas Pringle

Question:

318. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of female prisoners granted temporary release since the beginning of March 2020 that have been rearrested as a result of a breach in temporary release conditions by prison in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12105/20]

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Thomas Pringle

Question:

319. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the length of prison sentences that had been received by prisoners granted temporary release since the beginning of March 2020, by length of sentence in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12106/20]

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Thomas Pringle

Question:

320. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the type of offences committed by prisoners granted temporary release since the beginning of March 2020 resulting in rearrest by category of offence in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12107/20]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 317 to 320, inclusive, together.

A significant amount of work has been carried out by the Irish Prison Service over recent months to address the challenge of Covid-19, informed and guided by the advice received from NPHET and consistent with the prison-specific guidance for the management of Covid-19 issued by the World Health Organisation as well as human rights guidance by the Council of Europe.

In that context, I approved a number of actions in March this year to reduce the number of prisoners in our prisons and support a more effective infection control regime. This included the granting of temporary release to low-risk prisoners, who were assessed on a case-by-case basis.

In the first instance, the approach adopted included granting temporary release to low-risk prisoners who were serving sentences of less than 12 months for non-violent offences. Subsequently, prisoners assessed as low risk who had less than 6 months to serve were also granted temporary release from some prisons.

It is important to note that all prisoners granted temporary release were assessed on a case-by-case basis. The primary factor in the consideration of any prisoner for early release was and remains public safety. Risks assessed included any convictions for domestic abuse, such as breach of barring orders which present significant risks.

The Deputy will appreciate that the size of the prison population changes on a daily basis, as new committals and remands are made by the Courts and as releases occur, as prisoners reach the end of their sentences. I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that, since 2 March 2020, a total of 852 prisoners have been granted full or reviewable temporary release.

It is important to note that not all of these releases have related to the Covid-19 pandemic. I am informed that the initial process of identifying prisoners suitable for temporary release, for the purposes of reducing the prison population for effective infection control, resulted in approximately 500 prisoners being granted temporary release. I am further informed that, since then, the number of prisoners on temporary release has reduced to pre-pandemic levels and now occur as part of the normal prison release planning.

The following table, furnished to me by the Irish Prison Service, sets out the length of the sentences of those prisoners who were granted Temporary Release since 2 March 2020, as requested by the Deputy.

Sentence Length

Total

Life Sentence

5

10+ Years

1

5 to <10 years

45

3 to <5 years

91

2 to <3 years

68

1 to <2 years

162

6 to <12 months

190

3 to <6 months

167

<3 months

123

Total

852

As noted above, not all these represent temporary releases approved in the context of the pandemic. I am informed by the Irish Prison Service that the small number of life sentenced prisoners who were granted Reviewable Temporary Release since 2 March 2020 and who are included in the table above were granted Reviewable Temporary Release in accordance with the recommendations of the Parole Board, and not as part of the programme of temporary release in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

With regard to the Deputy’s question about persons who were re-arrested following temporary release, I am informed that, of the 852 prisoners who were granted full or reviewable temporary release since 2 March 2020, a total of 55 have been returned to custody.

The following table, furnished to me by the Irish Prison Service, sets out the number of male and female prisoners granted temporary release since 2 March 2020 who were returned to custody as a result of a breach of their temporary release conditions, broken down by prison.

Prison

Total number returned to custody

Castlerea Prison

4 (Male)

Cloverhill Prison

11 (Male)

Cork Prison

10 (Male)

Limerick Prison (Female)

3 (Female)

Limerick Prison (Male)

4 (Male)

Midlands Prison

6 (Male)

Mountjoy Prison (Female)

4 (Female)

Mountjoy Prison (Male)

4 (Male)

Portlaoise Prison

2 (Male)

Wheatfield Prison

7 (Male)

Total

55 (48 Male and 7 Female)

I understand that the Irish Prison Service work closely with An Garda Síochána and the Probation Service in respect of the monitoring, supervision and compliance of those on temporary release.

Any prisoner who breaches his or her conditions, including by committing a criminal offence, may be arrested and returned to prison immediately by Gardaí or may be refused another period of reviewable temporary release. If a person re-offends on temporary release, the issue of their prosecution is a matter for An Garda Síochána and the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider.

I am further informed that, of the 55 prisoners returned to custody, the Irish Prison Service have been made aware of 37 of those prisoners having committed a criminal offence resulting in their arrest and return to custody. I understand that the remaining 18 prisoners were returned to custody as a result of other breaches of the conditions of their temporary release.

Of those 37 prisoners who were re-arrested and returned to custody for committing a criminal offence since 2 March 2020, I am informed that the categories of offences in which the highest number of offences were recorded were burglary and related offences; theft and related offences; public order and other social code offences and damage to property and the environment offences.

I hope that the Deputy will appreciate that, given the small number of individuals concerned, to provide more detailed information regarding these offences could risk identifying persons involved. However, I will make arrangements to provide the Deputy with further information in respect of this matter shortly.