Government to accept legislation on parole for prisoners

Fianna Fáil private members’ motion to establish parole board on a statutory basis

 

The Government is to accept legislation to remove the power of politicians to grant prisoners parole.

Fianna Fáil will on Wednesday table a private members motion to establish a parole board on a statutory basis.

The party’s justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said the move was long awaited and will ensure victims and communities access and understand the decisions made.

He said: “It is inappropriate that politicians have a say as to whether or not a prisoner gets out.

“It should be a decision based on a fair and transparent statutory scheme presided over by an independent body. It is not a matter for politics.

“It is a conflict that has to be resolved and that is what our Bill is about.”

A spokesman for the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has agreed to accept the Bill without any amendment.

He said this had featured in the previous programme for government agreed with the Labour Party.

At present the Parole Board does not have legislative backing and therefore can only offer advice to the Minister, who can accept or reject that information.

The Fianna Fáil legislation would place the board on a statutory footing with an independent chairman or woman.

Probation

The board would consist of 15 members who will be appointed by the Minister including a psychiatrist, psychologist, representative of the prison service, Garda representative, probation officer and other nominees.

The proposed panel will be given the power to conduct reviews or hearings and those who are called to appear will be directed to attend.

Those who fail to comply could receive a €1,500 fine or six months imprisonment.

The board can only grant parole to a person who will not present an undue risk to society. It will also be obliged to take into account all relevant information including victims’ impact assessments and other statements from victims when making a decision.

Only people serving a sentence of more than eight years can be eligible, having served half of their sentence.

A person serving a life sentence cannot be considered unless they have served a minimum of eight years.

The legislation also insists parole orders will have effect until the expiry of the sentence and will be subject to strict conditions depending on the crime.

Mr O’Callaghan said the system would be fair and would not dependant on party politics.

“It is better off that way. We could find ourselves in the future where you do have a Sinn Féin Minister for Justice and wouldn’t you want to have a system where they would not be making decisions on the release of individuals from Portlaoise?” he said.