137 prisoners granted temporary release for Christmas

Nine out of 10 inmates being granted temporary release (TR) this Christmas are coming from the country's two open prisons.

The percentage of prisoners getting Christmas TR this year, running at 4% of the prisoner population, is similar to last year and marks a decrease on the previous two years.

The Irish Prison Service says that following a decision by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan 137 prisoners are being granted TR this Christmas.

The figures show that 125 (91%) of the total are coming from Loughan House, Co Cavan, and Shelton Abbey, Co Wicklow – the IPS's two open facilities.

Although details are not available, these can include people at the end of their sentences for serious offences, up to and including murder. Sex offenders are not included in the total number, with the two institutions housing sex offenders (Arbour Hill and Midlands) showing zero TR.

In addition to the two open centres, some seven inmates are being released from Portlaoise Prison, which is the country's only high-security jail. Two people are being released from Castlerea Prison and a further two from the Progression Unit, with one inmate from Dochas Women's Prison.

Prison sources indicated that “no one contentious” or anyone that could cause “political embarrassment” is being given TR.

The figures account for 4% of the numbers in custody, similar to 3.9% in 2017. Both years mark a drop on 2016 (5%) and 2015 (5.5%). As of yesterday, there were 3,910 inmates in custody – marking a significant rise on the same date in the previous years (3,688 in 2017, 3,663 in 2016 and 3,708 in 2015).

According to the IPS, many of the prisoners being released are nearing the end of their sentences: “The overriding concern when considering the applications is the safety of the public."

In addition to compassionate and humane considerations, other criteria taken into account include the nature and gravity of the offence, length of sentence served to date, prior record on temporary release, behaviour while in custody and previous criminal history.

It said periods of release vary from one to seven nights.

In recent years, there have either been very few or no cases of those on Christmas TR not returning to their prison on time.

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