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A third of inmates freed on licence in Northern Ireland are sent back to prison

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Maghaberry Prison

Maghaberry Prison

Maghaberry Prison

A third of prisoners released under licence in Northern Ireland were returned to jail in the last five years, the Justice Minister has revealed.

A total of 946 inmates out of 3,092 had their licences revoked between 2015 and 2019.

The figures were revealed following an Assembly question to Naomi Long by DUP MLA Joanne Bunting.

Last year alone, 200 out of 509 prisoners had their licences revoked, while in 2018 it was 185 from 766.

In 2017, a total of 532 prisoners were granted licences and 200 of them were subsequently returned to prison.

The previous year, 185 inmates out of 630 were sent back to prison. In 2015, 176 out of 655 who were released had their licences revoked.

Ms Long was unable to give details of the main reasons why the licences were revoked.

She said it happens where it is "necessary to protect the public from the risk of harm or serious harm."

SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly said the revocation figures could be looked at in "two very different ways".

"On one hand, it is a very high proportion of people to have had their licences revoked," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Secondly, it does prove that the system is working."

She continued: "People are trusted, and if they breach the guidelines then they're brought back to jail.

"I know the justice system is looking at ways in which they can meet the victims' needs, rehabilitate offenders and also keep the public safe.

"So this is all a balancing act."

The Upper Bann MLA added that she was aware that Northern Ireland's prisons have issues regarding mental health.

"I would also think that after a licence is revoked that lessons have been learnt," she added. "It would be interesting to know if there's any common themes in relation how the system is working to better improve and ensure the public is being kept safe."

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice explained the legislation governing licences lies within the Criminal Justice (NI) Order 2008, and the Criminal Justice NI Rules 2009.

"The Department of Justice revokes a licence wherein it is satisfied that this is necessary to protect the public from the risk of harm," said the spokesperson.

"A range of factors underpin each decision to revoke a licence."

Separately, in March it was announced that around 200 prisoners would be released early "under strict conditions" due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the time, Ms Long said the move was necessary for the health of the prison population and staff, adding that prisoners would have to adhere to a curfew, public health guidance and were not allowed to consume alcohol and were banned from contacting their victims.

It was also stressed that any inmate granted early release could be returned to jail under legislation whether conditions had been broken or not.

Belfast Telegraph