Nearly one-third of prisoners who died in the Republic in the past 10 years were finishing their sentences in the community on early release.
Of the 129 inmates who died south of the Border since January 2007, 42 were on temporary release. This is when prisoners are permitted to serve long periods of their sentence outside jail. It was previously used by the Irish Prison Service to address overcrowding.
The mechanism is used differently in Northern Ireland where prisoners can qualify for short periods of temporary leave based on compassionate grounds or to help with rehabilitation as they near the end of their sentences.
The Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, in an interview with The Detail before his sudden death last month stressed the State's duty of care towards inmates and the need for more information on the high number of temporary release deaths.
“If you have been in prison for a considerable length of time, your tolerance for drugs, if you haven’t been getting them in the prison, is probably a lot lower than it was when you went into prison,” he said.
“It may be, if prisoners are released and if they go back to their old stomping grounds, and take up drug-taking again, it may be that their low tolerance means that when they take that amount which they might have taken prior to going into prison, that it’s too much for them, and they might die.”
A spokesman for the Irish Prison Service said it was developing a new prisoner pre-release planning policy to improve the transition of inmates into the community.
“The aim of this policy is to provide standard practice for pre-release planning across the Irish Prison Service estate and to ensure the informed and effective transition of the offender from prison to the community.”
Daily population statistics from December show there were around 3,600 people in custody at 14 prisons across the State. About 300 more prisoners were on temporary release.
Judge Reilly set foundations for new systems for gathering information on prison deaths, which he indicated should be built upon to shed light on the deaths of prisoners in the community.
The Irish Prison Service spokesman said “robust procedures” were being developed with partner organisations around investigating deaths in custody.
“All prison governors are obliged to complete an internal investigation and to return an ‘’internal review report’ to the director general within two months of the death.”