To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality her views in relation to the reason the State introduced one-third enhanced remission [Section 59 Prison Rules, 2007] bringing the Irish Penal System into line with European norms, but subsequently rejected applicants who fulfilled the criteria, triggering a significant and costly number of legal challenges, including a sitting of the Supreme Court – Clare Daly
I wish to advise the Deputy that the principle of a rate of remission greater than the standard rate of 25 per cent, was introduced as a means of incentivising prisoners to engage with as wide a range of activities and services available to them throughout the prison estate as a means of assisting them in increasing their likelihood to successfully reintegrate back into society when their sentences are complete and to increase the likelihood that they would not reoffend.
The principle of greater remission was introduced into the Irish prison system through Statutory Instrument 252 of 2007 (referred to as the Prison Rules). Rule 59 allowed for the granting of greater remission to certain classes of prisoner by virtue of good conduct whilst imprisoned. The most important aspect of the Rule however, is outlined in Rule 59 (2) which specifies that –
“The Minister may grant such greater remission of sentence in excess of one quarter, but not exceeding one third thereof where a prisoner has shown further good conduct by engaging in authorised structured activity and the Minister is satisfied that, as a result, the prisoner is less likely to reoffend and will be better able to reintegrate into the community”.
The Deputy will therefore appreciate that the central thrust of the Rule and the central consideration that I must take into account when deciding whether or not to grant individual prisoner’s a rate of remission greater than the standard, is whether or not, through his/her (i) conduct in prison and (ii) the extent to which authorised structured activity has been engaged in, the prisoner has demonstrated that he or she is less-likely to reoffend if released at a time earlier than the normal remission date.
Arising from a number of judicial challenges to decisions made by me in respect of applications by prisoners for greater remission, and in consideration of comments by members of the judiciary hearing those challenges, on the advice of the Attorney General, I amended the Rule by introducing Statutory Instrument SI 335 of 2014 in August of this year. The purpose of this amendment was to bring greater clarity to the Prison Rules by outlining to prisoners the precise factors to be taken into account by me when considering whether or not to grant a prisoner a greater rate of remission.
I will not read into the record of the House the full provisions of the amended Rule, as the full Rule is available in the Library and elsewhere. However, I will outline that the main considerations include the nature and gravity of the offence, the period of the sentence served, the potential threat to public safety, the views (where relevant) of an Garda Síochána and of course the prisoner’s conduct as well as his or her engagement with authorised structured activities.
Finally, with regard to the number of court challenges arising, it is of course inevitable that some prisoners will feel aggrieved by negative decisions and will seek recourse through the Courts. I cannot, and would not, interfere in their right to do so. In view of the fact that a number of challenges remain before the Courts, the Deputy will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the reasons why any decision has been or will be appealed to the Supreme Court. However, I can advise the House that any decisions to appeal certain judgements to the Supreme Court have been (and will be) taken in consideration of the advice of the Attorney General.