Concern at release of 1,200 from prison early
A VIOLENT offender register should be established before the Minister for Justice presses ahead with plans to release up to 1,200 prisoners, a support group for victims of violent crime and their families has said.
Joan Dean, vice-president of Advic (Advocates for Victims of Homicide), expressed concern that Alan Shatter said the scheme would apply to prisoners serving sentences of between one and eight years.
Mr Shatter unveiled plans on Monday for the early release of the prisoners, over the next three years, to ease prison overcrowding and to begin prison reform.
Under the plan, those in prison for between one and eight years will be eligible for a community-release scheme half-way through their sentences.
Only those deemed not to pose a safety risk to the community will be released. All prisoners will be screened before being approved for the programme.
However, Ms Dean said: “A lot of people who have been convicted of manslaughter have killed someone and they would frequently serve sentences of between five and eight years.
“The fact that they have been convicted of manslaughter really doesn’t change the fact that they have killed someone and I think the early release of these prisoners could be a danger to society.”
She said Advic accepted the need for reform of the prison system. But she was not reassured, she said, by the Minister’s pledge that only those assessed as not posing a risk to society would be released.
“Particularly in light of recent events, where convicted killers have been in open prisons and have escaped ... it does beg the question of how carefully they are vetted before they are released or sent to open prisons.
“The concern we would have is that prisoners, particularly violent prisoners, immediately get a 25 per cent reduction on their sentence before they enter the prison and now there could be the possibility that they could get an early release as well.
“This all hinges on their good behaviour in prison and we feel there is a potential there for them to manipulate the system and be released back into society before they would be properly rehabilitated.”
She said the Minister should look at reforms that would reassure and benefit the victims as well as the offenders.
“One of those could be to review the practice of concurrent sentences. Also, a violent offenders register, and this should be a properly monitored and effective register.”
JUDGE'S REACTION: JAILING 'POINTLESS'
A Circuit Court judge has said it may be pointless to send convicted criminals to prison, following Minister for Justice Alan Shatter’s announcement.
Judge Tony Hunt of the midland circuit, who last year described prison as “an expensive place of last resort”, made the comments this morning at Tullamore Circuit Court, where he was dealing with two men who committed separate offences while under suspended sentences.
In deciding whether to activate the suspended sentences, he concluded there was “no point”.
“Anyone sentenced is likely to be out and about very soon,” he said in the case of Noel McCourtney (25), Geashill, Offaly, who committed public order offences while under a two-year sentence for drug dealing.
He questioned whether people who write to judges looking for offenders to be jailed understood they wouldn’t be in prison for long. “It’s possibly a pointless exercise,” he said. “There seems to be an accommodation problem,” he observed as he dealt with Trevor Jennings (27) of Wilmer Road, Birr, who was under a two-year suspended sentence for robbery when he was caught drink-driving.
“He isn’t a violent offender,” said the judge, observing that “custody appears to be reserved for violent offenders.”