Average ‘lifeterm’ in prison rises to 18 years

Prisoners on a life sentence are spending on average 18 years behind bars — longer than ever before, according to official research.

Figures supplied to the Irish Examiner show the average term of ‘lifers’ (primarily killers and rapists) has risen significantly.

Advocates of Victims of Homicide Ireland (AdVic) welcomed the increase but said the term life imprisonment was “a pup sold to the public”, saying it gave a “wholly false impression”.

Research just conducted by the Irish Prison Service shows the average jail term of lifers released between 2005 and 2013 was 18 years. This compares with:

* Just over 7.5 years for releases from 1975 to 1984;

* Less than 12 years for those freed between 1985 and 1994;

* Just under 14 years for lifers released between 1995 and 2004;

The figure increased to 17.5 years between 2005 and 2010, the previous time the research was done. It has risen a further half a year between 2010 and 2013.

Those serving life sentences are mainly murderers, for whom life terms are mandatory, but their number include some convicted of rape and manslaughter. The number of ‘lifers’ has risen from 221 in 2004 to 264 in 2007, to 290 in 2011, and to 319 in 2013.

The average in recent years has also been affected (upwards) by the release of inmates who have served very long sentences.

This includes Malcolm McArthur, released in September 2012 after serving 30 years for the double murder of Bridie Gargan and Donal Dunne in 1982.

It also includes Geoffrey Evans, who was released in 2010 to hospital after spending 34 years in prison, and died in 2012. He was convicted of the torture, rape, and murder of Elizabeth Plunkett in Co Wicklow and Mary Duffy in Co Mayo in 1976.

“There is a total of 29 life-sentenced prisoners, who were granted temporary release during the time period 2005 to 2013, under the supervision of the Probation Service,” said a Prison Service spokesman.

“The average time spent in custody by these persons over this nine-year period is 18 years. This compares to an average of just over seven and a half years for releases dating from 1975 to 1984, just under 12 years for the period dating from 1985 to 1994 and just under 14 years for the period dating from 1995 to 2004. The average has increased since 2010 when the average for those released from 2004 to 2010 was 17.5 years.

Special adviser to AdVIC John O’Keeffe said: “Clearly, any increase in the terms served by those on ‘life’ sentences in Ireland is welcomed by AdVIC.”

However, he said the term ‘mandatory life sentence’ should be removed from the law as it gave a “wholly false impression”.

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