Wednesday, 10 March 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
178. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of prisoners; the average service of sentence in the past 12 months; if all prisoners have served their full sentence other than early release for good behaviour or releases in connection with the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7402/99]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): The number of prisoners in custody on 5 March 1999 was 2,783 with a further 396 on temporary release. Statistics are not maintained in such a way as to readily enable the calculation of the average proportion of sentences served in any given period.
The granting of temporary or early release is a feature of prisons systems internationally and has been operated under statute in this country since 1960 by successive Ministers for Justice. Early temporary release is an important vehicle for reintegrating an offender into the community in a planned way.
Before granting early release careful consideration is given 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 overriding concern when decisions are being made in individual cases, is the safety of the public.
Persons serving sentences for serious crimes such as sex offences, importation or supply of drugs, armed robbery and other cases involving serious violence are not granted periods of tem porary release or released early except in very exceptional circumstances.
In a substantial number of cases, the granting of early release may be affected by pressure on prison accommodation. In other words, prisoners may be released earlier than planned due to overcrowding. This has been the case for several years.
The granting of early temporary release is always subject to conditions. The vast majority of prisoners are granted renewable temporary release and therefore required to report back to the prison from which they were released on a weekly basis. It is also a condition of renewable temporary release that offenders report to their local Garda station on a daily basis.
Since taking office, 70 spaces have been provided in Limerick Prison together with 152 at the new prison in Castlerea. My Department's prison building programme is on target to make available 995 additional prison places by end 1999. These additional spaces will help eliminate the problem of overcrowding and thereby tackle the need to grant related temporary or early release.
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