Four dangerous offenders recalled to jail every week because of risk to public
The number of offenders recalled to custody has soared - leading to fears that violent criminals are being released from prison too soon.
An average of four licences are revoked every week because the risk the individual involved poses to the public is judged to have increased to such a degree that they can no longer be safely managed in the community.
In the six months to the end of June this year, a total of 100 offenders were recalled to custody - the same as the number for the whole of 2011.
The figures were released by Justice Minister Claire Sugden after an Assembly question from Lord Morrow.
The DUP MLA said he was shocked by the disclosure. "These figures are indicative of a justice system placing offenders back into the community long before they are fit for release," Lord Morrow warned.
"We are continually told prison is to rehabilitate offenders, but these statistics demonstrate that is just not happening. It is startling to learn 100 licensed prisoners have been recalled in 2016, and we are only at the halfway stage. That was the entire figure for the year 2011. The statistics have climbed quite drastically over the past five years."
Between January 2011 and June this year, 894 offenders were sent back to custody. Last year, 176 had their licences revoked, while a further 187 were recalled in 2014.
Ms Sugden said: "An offender is recalled to custody, on revocation of their licence, when it is assessed that the current risk they may pose to the public has increased significantly and can no longer be safely managed in the community."
Lord Morrow said little consideration is given to victims: "The emphasis continues to be placed on the offender and how they have impressed authorities sufficiently to be released on licence."
A report last month by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland concluded the system was working "reasonably well". It found 29% of offenders released up to August 2015 were later recalled to prison - a 6% drop since 2010.
A Department of Justice spokesperson said: "Decisions on the release and recall of licensed prisoners in Northern Ireland are a matter for the independent Parole Commissioners. The Prison Service is responsible for the safe, decent and secure custody of people which prioritises their rehabilitation.
"The Probation Board is responsible for the supervision of individuals on licence in the community and individuals are recalled to custody when it is assessed that the current risks they pose whilst under supervision can no longer be safely managed in the community.
"The rate of recall is indicative of a system which is responsive to changes in risk and with a very clear focus on the protection of the public from harm."