Authorities confirm 475 prisoners currently ‘at large’

Majority of those who escaped did so from Cavan’s low-security Loughan House

Some 475 inmates are   at large from Irish prisons. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Some 475 inmates are at large from Irish prisons. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Some 475 inmates are currently at large from prisons around the country, authorities have confirmed.

While the majority are deemed “technical breaches” of temporary release conditions, more than 50 absconded or escaped over the past 20 years.

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) said it would not disclose the personal information of any prisoners unlawfully at large “for fear of inadvertently identifying an individual and breaching data protection guidelines”.

Before 2012, the IPS says it categorised all escapees, those who had absconded and other technical breaches as being “unlawfully at large”. There are currently 169 prisoners unlawfully at large from before 2012.

Since then, another six who escaped, 50 who absconded, 248 who breached conditions of temporary release and two who failed to return from bail all remain at large.

Tasered

Three of those who escaped are in custody in other jurisdictions, the IPS says.

They likely included Derek Brockwell, who escaped from Portlaoise prison in 2015 by stabbing two prison officers while being taken to Tallaght hospital for diabetes treatment. Brockwell, who has a history of escaping, was later captured in Belfast where police Tasered him outside a pub.

In 2017, Kevin O’Keeffe, with a former address of North Circular Road, Dublin, failed to return from temporary release from a 5½-year jail sentence for various offences including the violent robbery of a Spar shop, during which staff were tied up and threatened with knives. It was the second time he escaped from custody.

Several weeks ago, Michael Power, who was serving an 8½-year sentence in Mountjoy Prison for a knife attack on a homeless man which left the victim with serious injuries, escaped on his way to for treatment for an injury at St James’s Hospital.

The vast majority of those currently at large having absconded did so from Loughan House, a low-security open prison near the Border at Blacklion, Co Cavan.

Technical breaches include those failing to sign on at a prison at an allotted time during temporary release.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said the numbers are “significant” and called on the IPS to identify anyone who is a danger to the public.

“It is probably the case that not all are a risk and in those circumstances it could be understandable why all their information isn’t being disclosed – but in terms of any that are a risk to the public, they should be named,” he said. “I think there is an onus on the prison service to identify anyone at large who is a danger.”

Protect

Mr O’Callaghan, a barrister, said that even if there are data protection issues, the primary responsibility is the protection of the public. “If a dangerous criminal escaped, it is not tenable to suggest that his identity wouldn’t be published in order to protect that public,” he added.

An IPS spokesman said that in most of the cases, the offender is very much at the lower end of the risk to the public spectrum.

“The prisoners in question would have been risk assessed by the Irish Prison Service and deemed as suitable for temporary release back to the community or as suitable for an open centre regime.

“Gardaí­ are informed where prisoners are unlawfully at large and have the power to detain, arrest, and return such persons to prison.

“Ongoing contact takes place between the Irish Prison Service and the gardaí­ in relation to persons at large.”

In October 2012, the then director general of the IPS started a project working with the Garda and the Department of Social Protection to reduce the number of prisoners who are unlawfully at large. The IPS said the project is “ongoing”.

“It is also the case that, as the vast majority of persons unlawfully at large were nearing the end of their sentence they would, in the absence of them being at large, now have been released back into the community,” the IPS spokesman added.