Parole system for prisoners needs reform, says report

Tue, Oct 23, 2012, 01:00

A TRANSPARENT and accountable system of granting prisoners parole should be introduced as part of an overhaul of the remission and parole system, according to the Irish Penal Reform Trust.

In a report launched yesterday, it said the present system of temporary release and day release is used to relieve overcrowding in the prisons, rather than as a tool to facilitate the reintegration of prisoners into society. The decision-making process around temporary release is opaque and prisoners are not generally provided with clear reasons for refusal.

The Parole Board reviews prisoners that are serving sentences of more than eight years, including life sentences, and makes recommendations to the Minister on whether or not they should be released. These recommendations are not legally binding.

In the case of life-sentenced prisoners, there is no minimum tariff set by the judge, as there is in the UK, and there is no formal provision for release on licence, so they are granted renewable temporary release. In 2010 the then minister for justice told the Dáil that the average length of time served on a life sentence between 2004 and 2010 was 17 years, up from 14 years in the previous decade and 12 in the decade before that.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust said the fact that the decision on the release of every prisoner was made by the Minister for Justice was a serious concern and did not comply fully with the European Convention on Human Rights.

It recommends a new remission, temporary release and parole Act that would repeal all the legislative provisions for the existing system and put the Parole Board on a statutory footing.

It should set out a graduated system of early release as an integral part of an incentivised prison regime; fair procedures and independent decision-making; clear and transparent criteria for release in all categories, with detailed reasons given to prisoners for all decisions taken and remedies to challenge refusals of leave.

The legislation should distinguish clearly between day release and short temporary release to participate in work training or for family reasons on the one hand, and parole, which is release on licence at the end of a sentence, on the other. The new Act should provide for a system of earned early release, supervised by the Probation Service, which should be adequately resourced to do this. The report points out that the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act 2011, requiring judges to consider community service orders before considering a custodial sentence, would increase the numbers requiring supervision.

The Parole Board should be granted independence and given the power to make binding decisions on prisoner release, it said.

Prisoners should be automatically scheduled for a parole hearing within six months of their eligibility date and should be entitled to legal representation at parole hearings, according to the trust. A decision to refuse parole should be reviewed every year for prisoners serving sentences under 10 years and every two years for those serving longer sentences.