Prison parole review is ordered as killers go on the run
Prison chiefs are to review procedures for temporary release schemes after a number of convicted killers failed to return to jail, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Justice Minister David Ford has been under pressure to reassess the conditions for temporary release after killers including William Sloan and Samuel McKinley went on the run from the authorities.
He has now agreed to a review of the system, with the risk assessment process carried out on prisoners before they are allowed out expected to be the focus.
Mr Ford said: "The Northern Ireland Prison Service will take forward a periodic review of the approach to temporary release, including the conditions placed upon prisoners, later this year."
The move was last night welcomed by a DUP peer who urged Mr Ford to introduce safeguards to ensure the public are not at risk from absconding prisoners.
There are currently eight men unlawfully at large from Northern Ireland prisons.
Earlier this week, a convicted killer was returned to prison having spent three months at large.
Samuel McKinley (53) failed to return to custody days before Christmas having been released from Maghaberry Prison for a work scheme.
It was the third time he had absconded. McKinley is currently serving a life sentence for stabbing his friend to death during a drinking session.
This newspaper was shown a copy of a document used in the risk assessment process for prisoners prior to temporary release. It is just two pages long.
DUP peer Lord Morrow welcomed confirmation the review is to be conducted and suggested the starting point should be the risk assessment process. He has been a vocal critic of the current arrangements, given the number of prisoners absconding. "Following the drastically concerning and embarrassing number of absconding prisoners in recent months, I welcome confirmation from the Justice Minister of a review later this year into the approach to temporary release, including the conditions placed upon prisoners," he said.
"I suggest one of the first moves undertaken is a complete overhaul of the risk assessment procedure. The form for completion in the cases of prisoners, who have committed serious offences such as murder, is a flimsy document which could in no way give an accurate appraisal of potential dangers or fight risk. In fact it's totally inappropriate.
"I have difficulty understanding how the document purporting to be the risk assessment could in any way provide indicators which is ultimately supposed to protect the public. It does little to instil public confidence because if that is what NI Prison Service rely on to determine risk, it is little wonder it finds itself with a ridiculously high number of absconding prisoners.
"I submitted numerous questions to the minister but finally a response has been forthcoming which may see absconding incidents prevented.
"In addition I suggested the introduction of terms such as electronic tagging, which is often used for a remand on bail and therefore before a case is proven. I see no reason why it cannot be extended for convicted prisoners on temporary release."