Freedom revoked for significant number of released ‘lifers’

Average jailed for life each year since 2001 has been 21, while four released annually

Study by NUI Galway law lecturer Dr Diarmuid Griffin noted 61 former life prisoners living in the community. Photograph: The Irish Times

Study by NUI Galway law lecturer Dr Diarmuid Griffin noted 61 former life prisoners living in the community. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

A significant number of life-sentence prisoners released by the minister for justice end up being sent back to jail for breaching their release conditions.

A total of 44 “lifers” were released between 2001 and 2013. But during the same period 13 released prisoners who had been serving life were recalled to jail after their freedom was revoked.

Five of them were incarcerated again because they had come to the attention of the Garda for new offences.These included one theft, one burglary and one firearm offence, as well as two drugs offences.

Of the remaining eight, three had breached the agreement to “be of sober habits” in the community while five had breached unspecified “other” conditions.

The findings are contained in a new study by NUI Galway law lecturer Dr Diarmuid Griffin on life-sentence prisoners and the workings of the Parole Board.

It noted ministers for justice are not obliged to accept the recommendations of the board on a prisoner’s release, but 84 per cent of recommendations are accepted.

Dr Griffin’s report recommends the board be placed on a statutory footing and be given power to make decisions on releases, thus ending any political involvement in the process. The board reviews prisoners for possible release and makes a recommendation to the minister, who makes the final decision.

Dr Griffin also believes the courts should stipulate the number of years a prisoner should expect to serve when they impose life terms rather than following the current system where no sentence length is set down.

‘Sober habits’

One board member interviewed by Dr Griffin questioned the “sober habits” condition of release, pointing out people could be sent back back to prison for years for very minor drink-related public order incidents in which they had harmed nobody.

He cited one case in which a released prisoner was recalled for being drunk and disorderly.

“The arresting Garda actually wrote in afterwards and said had he known that the person was (a life sentence prisoner on release) he would have treated it differently because he wasn’t really posing any risk or any harm to anyone.

“But he just dealt with it on the street at the time . . . The person as a result of it remained in prison for a number of years afterwards.”

Dr Griffin’s study found that of the 315 life-sentence prisoners in July 2013, 297 were serving the mandatory life term for murder. The remaining 18 were serving discretionary life sentences imposed for unspecified offences which could include sexual offences and manslaughter, among others.

Life sentence prisoners accounted for 4.4 per cent of the prison population in 2001 (139 prisoners), increasing to 7.7 per cent by the end of 2013 when there were 319.

The study noted the average number of people jailed for life each year since 2001 has been 21, while the average number released each year was four. There are 61 former life prisoners living in the community, it added.