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Written Answers. - Prisoner Releases.

Tuesday, 3 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 558 No. 4

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 365. Ms O'Sullivan Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell  the basis on which two persons (details supplied) serving life sentences on conviction of murder were released; if his Department has a policy of informing the family of the victim in such cases; if not, the reason therefor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24574/02]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell The persons referred to by the Deputy are both serving a life sentence for murder since March 1994. As the Deputy may be aware, persons serving life sentences for murder may have their case reviewed by the Interim Parole Board after they have served seven years in custody.

The board was established in April 2001 to advise the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in relation to the administration of long-term prison sentences and replaces the work previously carried out by the Sentence Review Group. The board, by way of recommendation to the Minister, advises of the prisoner's progress to date, the degree to which he or she has engaged with the various therapeutic services and how best to proceed with the future administration of this sentence. I consider in full all recommendations put before me by the Interim Parole Board before making the final decision regarding sentence management.

With regard to the prisoners in question, the director general of the Irish Prisons' Service has informed me that the case of the first mentioned prisoner was considered by the Sentence Review Group in June 2001. Following this review, the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform accepted the recommendations of the group and approved monthly renewable temporary release for this prisoner, under the supervision of the probation and welfare service, with effect from January 2002. This supervised release, which in fact commenced in April 2002, is subject to strict conditions including a condition that the prisoner concerned is prohibited from residing in [1128] or visiting the Limerick area without prior permission.

The case of the second named prisoner was reviewed by the Interim Parole Board on 18 November 2002 and I am presently awaiting the recommendations of the board in this particular case. The prisoner concerned, as part of the process of rehabilitation, is currently on a programme of daily temporary release to take up employment. In addition, she also receives occasional periods of release for reintegration and resocialisation purposes. As in the above case, conditions always apply to these releases.

This programme of releases was agreed by my predecessor as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the advice of the Sentence Review Group. Both of the persons referred to by the Deputy had been reviewed by the Sentence Review Group on a number of occasions and the programme of temporary releases allowed these persons followed the advice of that group. In addition, the probation and welfare service also monitors the behaviour of these persons while they are on temporary release. I can assure the Deputy that I am very conscious of the impact of crime on victims and their families, as indeed are the agencies who advise me in relation to the management of the sentences of life sentenced persons, i.e. the Interim Parole Board, the Irish Prisons' Service and the probation and welfare service.

I acknowledge that for every offender there is a victim and although there is no formal mechanism in place to obtain the views of a victim, or their family, the fact is that such views, when made known, are always given due consideration. While it is appropriate that the sensitivities and concerns of victims of crime should be and are carefully considered during the sentence management process, it must also be noted that the need to rehabilitate offenders and reintegrate them back into society must also be considered and a balance struck. This balance is not always easy to achieve. However, I can assure the Deputy that when making these decisions, I do give careful consideration to all aspects of each case.

The provisions of the victim's charter relating to notification of temporary release have been implemented by the Irish Prisons' Service. Notification only occurs, however, when requested by the victim and does not occur as a matter of course. There are many sound reasons for this as experience has shown that many victims of crime try to put the incident behind them and do not wish for such information as it could refresh the pain and hurt already caused by the crime. If requested by the victim of a serious offence or a close family member of the victim, the Irish Prisons' Service will notify the victim or family, usually via the Garda, prior to the release of the perpetrator from prison either on temporary release or at the end of their sentence. In some cases, it is possible to make contact directly. In cases where the release is ordered by the court, prior notification is not usually possible. Requests for [1129] notification of releases can be addressed to the prisons victim liaison officer at the Irish Prisons' Service headquarters.

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