Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Penal Servitude.

Wednesday, 13 May 1987

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 372 No. 8

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48.

Miss Harney: Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  asked the Minister for Justice the average period of imprisonment or penal servitude actually served by persons sentenced to life imprisonment or penal servitude for life who have been released and remain released, [1777] whether a full temporary release, or otherwise, during the period 1977 to 1987; in respect of all prisoners released in the said period (a) the number who had actually served less than five years, (b) the number who had served less than eight years, (c) the number who had served less than ten years, (d) the number who had served less than 12 years, (e) the number who had served less than 15 years and (f) the number who had served more than 15 years; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  The average period of imprisonment or penal servitude actually served by persons sentenced to life imprisonment or penal servitude for life who have been released during the period 1977 to date and remain released was eight years and eight months.

The information sought by the Deputy in respect of all prisoners released in the period in question could not be compiled in the time available and, in any event, attempting to extract this information would involve an inordinate amount of staff time.

In relation to prisoners released in the period in question who had been serving life sentences, the following is a breakdown of the periods actually served:

Less than five years None
More than five years but less than eight 11
More than eight years but less than ten 8
More than ten years but less than 12 5
More than 12 years but less than 15 None
More than 15 years 2

I think it will be clear to the Deputy that an average figure in this context must be treated with caution as the actual period spent in custody can vary substantially from case to case.

Miss Harney: Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  I should like to thank the Minister for his reply. I appreciate that it is difficult to compile statistics in a country where we do not keep very good statistics in this and other areas. I appreciate the effort that went into preparing the [1778] answer to my question. Is there a relationship between the length of time served and the availability of accommodation?

Mr. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  With regard to the question, which is essentially a statistical question, I should tell Deputy Harney that the information which she sought in relation to all prisoners released from 1977 to date would cover about 30,000 releases. This would involve a huge amount of research so the Deputy will appreciate the difficulty. What was the Deputy's second question?

Miss Harney: Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  Is there any relationship between the length of time served and the availability of accommodation?

Mr. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  Having regard to the content of the question, the answer is no.

Miss Harney: Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  On what basis has the Minister power to remit sentences of this kind?

Mr. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  A number of factors are taken into consideration. The wide variation of the length of sentences served is partly explained by the fact that life sentences are mandatory on conviction for non-capital murder. In deciding on release, account must be taken of the circumstances of the crime. For example, a distinction could be made between a domestic murder and a murder committed in the course of an armed robbery. One of the factors which must be taken into account at this stage in determining the length of time to be spent in prison by those serving life sentences is the tendency in recent years for the courts to impose longer fixed sentences, such as 17 years in one kidnapping case and 20 years in a recent rape case. There are a number of factors to be taken into consideration by those who recommend releases to the Minister of the day.

Miss Harney: Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  In extenuating circumstances people might have to be released for family health reasons and so forth. We can perfectly understand that [1779] there are cases which merit such releases, but should the decision not go back to the court rather than be made by the Minister?

Mr. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  As the Deputy will appreciate, it is the Minister's responsibility to deal with this situation. I have no proposals at present to change that procedure.

Miss Harney: Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  Does the Minister agree that eight years and eight months is indeed very short and some people would be very surprised? We do not want to be alarmist about the matter but does he not think that there is need for amending legislation to lay down specifically what life sentences should mean?

Mr. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  Is the Deputy suggesting that an average of eight years and eight months is too short?

Miss Harney: Information on Mary Harney  Zoom on Mary Harney  In some cases.

Mr. Collins: Information on Gerard Collins  Zoom on Gerard Collins  Perhaps the Deputy should know that we are in line with all western democracies in this area at present. There is a view held that perhaps that amount of time is even too long. The Deputy would make a very severe Minister for Justice.


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