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Are prisoners being freed temporarily to relieve overcrowding?

Fianna Fáil believes that temporary release is being used to ease overcrowding in some prisons.

Image: Shutterstock

OVER 600 PRISONERS were on temporary release on a single day earlier this month.

Although the number is not unusual in present circumstances – there were 642 prisoners in temporary release on one day in September – Fianna Fáil believes that some prisoners are being allowed out on temporary release in order to relieve overcrowding.

The latest figures show that 3 November there were 608 prisoners on temporary release across the prison system.

Over a third of those were on structured temporary release programmes such as the Community Return Programme or Community Support Scheme.

Prisons breakdown

Those on temporary release on that day include three people convicted of homicide, one convicted for a sexual offence and 173 for controlled drug offences.

Offences

Separate figures show pressure on bed capacity in Mountjoy and Cork prisons where there are concerns about overcrowding.

On 31 October this year the female prison in Mountjoy was at 109 per cent capacity with 114 women in custody compared to 105 available beds.

While in Cork there were 219 prisoners to 210 beds representing 104 per cent of bed capacity.

Prison capacity

On 3 November, 43 women in Mountjoy were allowed out on temporary release while in Cork prison 123 prisoners were allowed on temporary release.

Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesperson Niall Collins said: “This Government has failed to overhaul an expensive, ineffective and outdated penal system. The figures for temporary release show that our prisons are struggling to cope with reduced resources and a lack of leadership from the Government parties in reforming that system.”

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Collins said the government has failed to take on board a report on penal reform by the Oireachtas Justice Committee and the recommendations in the review of penal policy published earlier this year.

‘Real and tangible benefits’

In her response to parliamentary question, the Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that the basis for making decision on temporary release take into account various factors including the gravity of offence, the amount of sentence served and a person’s conduct in prison.

Fitzgerald pointed out that 9 out of 14 prisons in the country have complied with the Inspector of Prisons guidelines that there be a maximum of 3,976 people in custody.

She also said there has been a nearly 20 per cent decrease in the number of prisoners in custody since the government came to office over three years ago.

Fitzgerald has said previously that the Community Return Programme was delivering “real and tangible benefits to the State” by saving prison spaces and moving away from the unstructured release of prisoners.

Responding to the publication of the Penal Policy Review Group report in September Fitzgerald said that future penal policy must have two key goals: “The societal need for punishment to be served must be met. But the proven potential to reduce crime through reducing re-offending must also be grasped.”

Read: Here’s how many prisoners were given temporary release since 2009 … and never came back

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Hugh O'Connell

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