Prisoner escapes twice as likely in Ireland than rest of Europe

Prisoners are twice as likely to escape from jails in Ireland than the rest of Europe, inspectors have revealed.

While only six inmates went on the run in 2013, the most up to date figures showed 472 offenders were at large after not returning to prison after temporary release, a hospital visit or by walking out of an open unit.

A study of the 47 Council of Europe countries found there are 14.8 prison escapes for every 10,000 inmates in Ireland.

That compared to 1.6 in England and Wales, none in Northern Ireland, and a European average of 7.8.

In 2013 there were nine deaths, including two suicides, in Irish jails, the report said.

In the latest escape, murderer Frederick Lee, 51, went on the run from Shelton Abbey, an open prison near Arklow, Co Wicklow last Friday morning.

He has not been captured.

The Irish Prison Service, which classes escapes from open prisons as absconding due to the more relaxed security regime, said 56 offenders went on the run from these units.

But the figures from last October also showed there are 416 other offenders who failed to return to a jail to sign off from their sentence after securing temporary release, compassionate leave, or a medical appointment.

The Council of Europe’s Space report on prisons found jails across the continent in 2014 were at near capacity with more than 1.6m people behind bars.

Despite repeated reports on overcrowding and pressure on capacity in the country’s jails, the prison population here is relatively low with 83.1 offenders behind bars for every 100,000 people.

That compares to 149.7 in England and Wales, 101.3 in Northern Ireland, and 147.6 in Scotland.

Just over 10% of Ireland’s prisoners were doing life, similar to Greece, with only Northern Ireland at 12%, and Scotland at 16.2%, recording higher figures.

And it costs €180 a day to keep someone jailed in Ireland — it is almost €110 in England and Wales.

Across the EU, costs ranged from €3 per day in Ukraine to €358 in Norway.

Other findings showed 15% of those in jail in Ireland have yet to get a final sentence.

And drug users, dealers, and traffickers made up the biggest criminal group — 16.3% of the total; followed by robbers 14%, and killers 12.3%.

Inmates classed under “other offences” such as non-payment of fines or administrative crimes accounted for 16.4% of those in jail across Europe.

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