Dáil Éireann - Volume 531 - 01 March, 2001

Written Answers. - Prisoner Releases.

36. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the standard procedures applicable in respect of prisoners on day or other forms of release, supervised and unsupervised; if he will give an assurance that procedures are in accordance with best practice with due regard for the concerns and safety of the general public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6208/01]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): I am satisfied that the procedures in place for the determination of temporary release for prisoners are more than adequate in meeting both the objective of public safety and the requirement for prisoner rehabilitation. There is always an element of risk in this area [1343] and the key task is to find ways to minimise this risk as far as possible. In this regard, when temporary release is granted it is always subject to conditions. Standard conditions applied in every case are that the prisoner on release must be of good behaviour and of sober habits. In addition the majority of prisoners on temporary release must report daily to a Garda station. Other more specific conditions tailored to possible risks in individual cases are often applied including, for example, a prohibition on visiting or residing in a particular location. If any of these conditions are breached, the person on temporary release may be rearrested, without warrant, by the gardaí and returned directly to prison without the need for a further court appearance.

In the majority of cases, temporary release is now granted for constructive and rehabilitative reasons. For example, a prisoner may be released to attend educational and-or training programmes or courses. Another reason is to participate in work training with recognised agencies such as CONNECT or PACE. The aim of this form of temporary release is to help the prisoner with employment prospects on the outside which will have the effect of reducing the risk of reoffending. In addition short periods of temporary release to visit family members may be granted to prisoners in an effort to reduce the effects of institutionalisation and to aid familiarisation with the outside world.

Before granting temporary release careful consideration is given in each individual case to a number of factors including the nature and seriousness of the offence, previous record, behaviour in custody, length of sentence served and any compassionate grounds which merit special consideration. The primary concern in considering whether to grant temporary release is the safety of the public. It is important to note that decisions are only made following consultations with the Garda and local prison officials. Other matters considered are whether the prisoner has engaged constructively with the various prison based therapeutic services such as the Probation and Welfare Service, educational and work training programmes, and-or drug treatment programmes.

As well as allowing prisoners short periods of release on compassionate grounds or to attend important family events, temporary release arrangements are, in effect, our system of parole which is a feature of prison systems worldwide. Paroles are an important vehicle for re-integrating an offender into the community in a planned way. While due regard must be had to any risk which a particular release might pose, the generally accepted view is that the risk to the community would be even greater if, in certain cases, attempts at planned re-integration of offenders were not made since they must return to the community anyway on the expiration of their sentence.

It is important to remember that the majority [1344] of prisoners on temporary release are either on structured temporary release programmes, often under the direct supervision of the Probation and Welfare Service, or are on short temporary release periods for valid compassionate reasons such as ill health or a death in the family.

I would also like to inform the House that, as a direct consequence of the ongoing prison building programme, there has been a considerable reduction in the proportion of prisoners on temporary release. This figure has fallen from 19 per cent of the total prison population in October 1996 to a current figure of 6 per cent. The actual number has fallen from 550 to less than 200 in the same time period.