Seventeen life-sentence prisoners released last year

Longest term served was 28 years, while the shortest was 14

Two life-sentence prisoners were recalled to resume serving their sentences behind bars for breaching the conditions of their release. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Two life-sentence prisoners were recalled to resume serving their sentences behind bars for breaching the conditions of their release. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Seventeen life-sentence prisoners were released in 2019, in what was the busiest year for the Parole Board since 2014.

The average term served by life-sentence prisoners before release stood at 20 years, an increase of two years compared with 2017 and 2018, according to the board’s annual report. One released prisoner had served 14 years, while another had served 28.

Two life-sentence prisoners were recalled to resume serving their sentences behind bars for breaching the conditions of their release. One prisoner had breached the conditions relating to alcohol consumption, while the other engaged in “threatening behaviour at his supported accommodation”, the board said.

There are currently 355 life sentence prisoners behind bars, including two who have been detained for more than 40 years and nine who have served 35-40 years.

The Parole Board’s function is to review the sentences of life-sentence prisoners, or prisoners serving at least eight years, after the first seven years of their sentences have elapsed. It then sends its recommendations for approval to the Minister for Justice.

No full release

Life-sentence prisoners can never obtain full release, only what is known as “permanent temporary release”, which can be revoked at any time if they break their parole conditions.

In 2019 the board, which is chaired by solicitor John Costello, dealt with 382 cases, including 71 new referrals. Of these 117 cases were the subject of review by the board, with the vast majority having to wait more than six months to be heard.

Mr Costello said it was “essential” that future reforms reduce the wait time for hearings.

The board sent 80 recommendations to then Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, of which 69 were accepted in full, with the remainder being accepted in part.

These recommendations included releasing prisoners, moving them to open prisons and allowing them to have family visits outside prison.

The 2019 report will be one of the final annual reports by the Parole Board in its current form ahead of sweeping restructuring under the Parole Act 2019.

Under the new system the board will be placed on a statutory footing and the Minister will have no say in releasing prisoners. Life-sentence prisoners will also be required to serve a minimum of 12 years before applying for parole for the first time, up from the previous seven years.