The Release and Recall of Life Sentence Prisoners: Policy, Practice and Politics.
Irish Jurist (April 2015, Forthcoming)
35 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2015 Last revised: 11 Sep 2015
Date Written: January 15, 2015
The process for the release of life sentence prisoners has yet to be subject to the level of reform witnessed in other European countries. Criticisms of the release process and concerns regarding its adherence to fundamental rights provisions have been raised. There is certainly cause for closer scrutiny. A non-statutory, advisory Parole Board, established in 2001, makes recommendations to the Minister for Justice who ultimately decides at what point a life sentence prisoner is released. From 2001 to 2013, the life sentence prison population increased by 130 per cent and life sentence prisoners now represent 7.7 per cent of the prison population, a significant increase from 4.4 per cent in 2001. There has been a considerable increase in time served by life sentence prisoners from 7.5 years in the 1970s and 1980s to a peak of 22 years in 2012. The discretionary process within which parole decision-makers operate has facilitated the transition from leniency to severity in terms of time served by life sentence prisoners but there is a paucity of information on the process and how it has enabled such increases over time. This article examines the various stages of parole decision-making, focusing on the review, release and recall of life sentence prisoners. In addition to examining the publicly available materials on parole, the analysis of the process is informed by qualitative research conducted with Parole Board members, former Ministers for Justice and former members of the Sentence Review Group.
Keywords: life sentence prisoners, parole, release, Ireland
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