Increase in prisoners out for Christmas

Almost 250 inmates freed by Minister on varying periods of temporary release

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter: has rarely been out of the eye of the storm. Photograph: The Irish Times

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter: has rarely been out of the eye of the storm. Photograph: The Irish Times

Tue, Dec 24, 2013, 01:00


Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has sanctioned the release from prison for Christmas of 249 offenders with no requirement on some to return after the festive period.

Christmas releases have always occurred and have been rising in recent years, from 160 as recently as 2011 and 226 last year. Most of those being freed are nearing the end of their sentences and are in jail for non-violent crimes.

However, prison sources said that while some criminals jailed for violent offences are released each Christmas, they are regarded as no longer posing a safety risk.

Some of those being set free for the festive period are being granted what Mr Shatter has dubbed “full temporary release”.

That phrase was coined by the previous Fianna Fáil-led administration. It applied to prisoners granted early release from jail, usually to make way for new committals in overcrowded prisons.


Prison population
However

, in an effort to conceal high levels of early release it was decided to categorise them as being on a form of temporary release.

That practice of defining them as being on “full temporary release”, rather than the reality of having been released early, has been maintained by Mr Shatter in public statements and official prison population data. Those who are being released temporarily this festive season will be freed for periods ranging from a few hours on Christmas Day, in some cases accompanied by prison staff, up to seven nights. Some of the periods of release have already begun.


Minimum security
Mr Shatter has declined to reveal how many of the 249 are being freed with no requirement to return to prison.

Some 75 per cent of Christmas releases are being freed from minimum security or open prisons such as Loughan House in Co Cavan and Shelton Abbey in Co Wicklow.

The vast majority of those being freed are on “enhanced regimes” in jail.

This system is regarded as the most progressive penal reform for decades and has been rolled out in the period since former head of the probation service Michael Donnellan became director general of the Irish Prison Service in November 2011.

Prisoners are offered incentives such as higher gratuities, longer telephone calls and more visits if they engage with rehabilitation services and are of good behaviour. They can also apply to be released early when they reach the halfway point of their term. That move is aimed at controlling the size of the prison population.

It is also designed to encourage prisoners to take a constructive approach to the rehabilitative and educational benefits of imprisonment.

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