Two audits by the Irish Prison Service (IPS) of sentences handed down to prisoners have uncovered sentencing errors concerning 131 prisoners across the prison estate.
That is according to the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD who said that an initial review carried out last year of sentences handed down to 4,000 prisoners identified 48 sentencing errors across the prison estate.
Ms McEntee said that the 48 sentences were re-calculated and resulted in the sentences of 25 prisoners being decreased in length, while a further 23 individuals had their sentence length increased.
In a written Dáil reply to Green Party TD Patrick Costello, MsMcEntee said: “The reasons for inaccurate sentence calculations included erroneous start dates where a prisoner had multiple warrants, incorrect linking of consecutive and concurrent warrants, warrants not recorded after appeals and misinterpretation of warrants”.
Ms McEntee stated that the review of sentence calculations and procedures was undertaken throughout the prison estate at the end of January 2021 following the early release of a prisoner from Midlands Prison in December 2020.
The Minister stated that the purpose of the review was to provide assurance on the accuracy of sentence calculation for those in custody.
She said that in tandem with the review, an overarching sentence calculation policy was developed by the Prison Service and has been circulated to staff throughout the prison estate.
Extensions without explanation
According to the Department of Justice, between February and July 2021, a dedicated project team carried out audits of prison files and sentence calculations of approximately 4,000 prisoners.
In July 2021, a further review took place of all prisoners who had credit days applied to their sentence in respect of time spent on remand and this resulted in a further 77 prisoners having their sentence increased and six having their sentence length decreased.
Ms McEntee revealed that on foot of one such instance, in October 2021, a prisoner lodged a legal challenge in the High Court, under Article 40 of the Constitution to his continued detention.
While the application was unsuccessful, the High Court decision was overturned in the Court of Appeal and the individual was released from custody.
Ms McEntee said that following this, all files impacted by the judgment were re-examined and where necessary sentences were re-calculated and the Prison Service Sentence Calculation policy was also amended to give effect to the judgment.
She added that, in order to provide further assurance and to support and validate the internal review carried out by the Prison Service, it is proposed to commence an external review of the policies, processes and procedures in operation for the calculation of prisoner sentences by a suitably qualified person with detailed knowledge of sentence calculation.
Mr Costello placed the Dáil question on foot of a thematic inspection of the Office of Inspector of Prisons of Castlerea Prison which reported that “a large number of prisoners reported to the inspection team that their release dates had recently been extended without explanation”.
The inspection team reported that “one prisoner stated his release date had been moved from January 2022 to June 2022 and another prisoner reported that two months had been added to his sentence”.
According to the inspection team, a prison officer confirmed that extensions had seemingly been made to release dates for a number of prisoners.
The team raised this issue with senior management, who reported that the IPS had commissioned a review of all sentence calculations across the prison estate in the spring of 2021, which resulted in all sentences being audited.
The report stated that a component of that review included the calculation of credit days applied to prisoner sentences.
This part of the review was conducted in Castlerea Prison in August 202 where 52 individual prisoner sentences had been examined and resulted in a change to release dates for 30 prisoners, only one of which was a reduction in time spent in prison.