Increase in time life prisons must serve before parole

Minister for Justice, Heather Humphreys TD, today announced the commencement of the Parole Act, and also the establishment of the new Parole Board.

A series of changes have been enacted meaning that prisoners serving life-imprisonment must now have spent at least 12 years behind bars before being considered for parole.

This compares to the previous seven year rule, following which prisoners could apply for early, often supervised, release.

Minister for Justice, Heather Humphreys TD, today announced the commencement of the Parole Act, and also the establishment of the new Parole Board.

The purpose of the Act is to place the parole process on a statutory footing, and establish an independent, statutory Parole Board to decide on parole applications.

The Act sets out clear and transparent criteria for how the Board will reach its decisions, which will be independent of the Minister of the day.

Following the commencement of the Act on July 30, the time which must be served by a life-sentence prisoner before being considered for parole has now increased to 12 years, compared to the previous 7 years.

The average sentence served in the last ten years before a life sentenced prisoner is released on parole is 18 years, and in 2019 it was 20 years.

The establishment of the Parole Board on a statutory footing is a priority action under Justice Plan 2021 and is a key commitment in the Programme for Government.

The Hon. Mr Justice Michael White was nominated by the Chief Justice as the inaugural Chair of the Parole Board earlier this year. A further 9 Board members were appointed following their nomination by specified nominating bodies and specified post holders as set out in Section 10 of the Act.

Following a Public Appointments Service (State Boards) selection process, the Minister decided to appoint Ms. Ann Reade, Mr. Paddy Richardson and Mr. Kieran Kenny, bringing the total Board membership to 13 (including the Chairperson).

Victims of crime will be able to make submissions to the Board if they wish and may, under the Act, receive legal assistance in this regard.

Commenting, Minister Humphreys said the Parole Board will play a “vital role” in the justice system going forward. “Transparency and accountability is vital in achieving fairness for victims of crime and rehabilitation for the prisoners. I believe that the new independent Parole Board will considerably improve the system as it currently operates.”

She further described the change to the length of a life sentence which must be served, from seven years to 12 years, before an initial parole hearing is “recognition” that the previous period was “distressing” for victims. “I believe the new period of 12 year is a positive change.”

Speaking about an upcoming consultation with victims groups, Minister Humphreys added: “The Parole Board will shortly be writing to national organisations and groups that represent and support victims of crime in the State, in order to provide them with some information in respect of the commencement of the Parole Act 2019 and other relevant and related matters.”