Letters to Parole Board from victim's families show 'enormous pain and suffering'

File photo.

Family members of murdered loved ones and victims of serious crimes reveal “enormous pain and suffering” in letters they send to the State body charged with releasing prisoners.

The Parole Board said the letters show many people continue to suffer “severe trauma and mental health problems” and the letters were seriously considered by the board when weighing up whether or not a life- sentence inmate should be granted parole.

The board’s annual report for 2017 shows the average sentence already served by 21 life-sentence prisoners granted parole was 18 years.

This figure is in keeping with recent years, with the average in 2016 at 18.5 years and between 17-18 years in 2014. It marks a slight increase on a decade ago, when the average served was 16 years.

The report shows that of the 48 cases accepted for review in 2017, the offence was murder in 20 instances, followed by sexual offences in 11 cases. Five were manslaughter cases, followed by offences against the person (three), robbery (three) and aggravated burglary (two).

The Parole Board can review cases after seven years of a sentence being served.

The report said 349 prisoners were currently serving a life sentence, 10 of whom were female.

In his foreword, chairman John Costello said the board recommended to the minister that 21 life-sentence prisoners be granted parole on a phased basis over a period of 12-18 months.

This is broken up into periods of day temporary release, increasing to weekend temporary release and with a gradual reintegration with families, where appropriate.

The board believes that this gradual reintegration of a prisoner back into the community is the best way of enabling a life-sentence prisoner to re-settle successfully into society,” said Mr Costello.

He said 14 of the 21 cases have received full parole. He said they are subject to progress reports by their supervising probation officer (every six months for the first two years and annually thereafter) to the Irish Prison Service.

Mr Costello said the average sentence served by the 14 convicts had been 18 years.

He said the board often receives letters from victims and/or their families before they review a prisoner.

“On many occasions, these letters reveal enormous pain and suffering caused to victims,” he said. “If a case involves a murder, many family members are still experiencing severe trauma and mental health problems after the death of their loved one.

These letters are seriously considered by board members before deciding on a recommendation.

Mr Costello agreed with the findings of an Irish Prison Service report in April 2017 which concluded the Parole Board was not efficient in terms of the time taken to review cases and it needed change. He hoped the new Parole Bill, due before the Dáil later this year, would bring about “substantial improvements”.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) welcomed the restated commitment of Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan to progress legislation to establish the Parole Board on a statutory basis.

“However, we are concerned at current proposals to increase eligibility for parole review from seven years to 12 years, which may have the unintended effect of delaying engagement by life-sentenced prisoners in rehabilitative services and treatments,” said IPRT executive director Deirdre Malone.

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