Irish Daily Mail

Prisoners given life sentences must serve at least 12 years in jail

- By Helen Bruce Courts Correspond­ent

PRISONERS who have been given life sentences must now serve at least 12 years before they can apply for parole, up from a minimum of seven years.

Acting Justice Minister Heather Humphreys has announced the change, along with the establishm­ent of a new, independen­t parole board, which means the minister will no longer have a say in whether parole is granted.

While revealing the news, she said that over the last ten years, the average time served behind bars before a ‘lifer’ was released on parole was 18 years, and in 2019 it was 20 years.

However, she acknowledg­ed that applicatio­ns made by life prisoners for parole after as little as seven years had been

‘Voice of victims must be heard’

‘distressin­g’ for victims.

Advic, an advocacy group for families of murder victims, said it was delighted that the new parole board had now been set up on a statutory footing.

The Parole Act now sets out clear and transparen­t criteria for how the parole board will reach its decisions.

Parole can only be granted if the board is satisfied that the prisoner does not pose an undue risk to the public, that he or she has been rehabilita­ted, and that it is appropriat­e in all the circumstan­ces to release him or her on parole.

Advic’s chairman, Joan Deane, who became active in victims’ rights issue after her son, Russell, was beaten to death at his house in Co. Louth in 2003, said: ‘We welcome the increase in time before parole can be considered for a life-sentence prisoner to 12 years, from the previous seven.’

She said Advic was also glad to see a move to allow victims of crime to make submission­s to the board if they wish. They may, under the Act, receive legal assistance to do this.

Ms Deane added: ‘It is essential that the voice of victims be heard in the parole process, and we are very pleased to see this addressed, and that victims will be provided legal assistance to engage with the process.’

She said that the new board included people who were highly qualified in their field, dealing with both victims and prisoners, and that Advic looked forward to working with them.

The board, which has State funding of €1.3million this year, includes Judge Michael White, head of the Central Criminal Court; Anne Reade, who has worked as a social worker for 30 years in the Probation Service and Tusla; former assistant commission­er of An Garda Síochána Kieran Kenny; barrister Sinéad McMullen; and Paddy Richardson, chief executive of the Irish Associatio­n for Social Inclusion Opportunit­ies. It also includes a solicitor, two consultant psychiatri­sts, a chief superinten­dent and a probation officer.

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, said the increase from seven to 12 years for a first parole review was a significan­t change, even though there had been no realistic prospect of release at seven years for some time.

‘Parole plays an important role in promoting public safety by supporting the safe reintegrat­ion of people serving long sentences back into the community,’ Ms Ní Chinnéide added.

She also said the seven-year applicatio­n date had caused immense distress to victims and their families, and that it had also undermined confidence among prisoners in terms of their engagement with the process.

 ??  ?? Welcomed move: Joan Deane
Welcomed move: Joan Deane

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