Belfast Telegraph

Telegraph campaign helped scrap automatic remission

By Deborah McAleese

For three decades prisoners in Northern Ireland, including some of the most dangerous and violent, were automatically released from jail halfway through their sentence.

This controversial practice was finally scrapped in 2008 following a successful campaign by the Belfast Telegraph.

This paper launched the Justice for Attracta campaign, demanding an end to automatic remission, after Strabane pensioner Attracta Harron was murdered by violent Trevor Hamilton, who had just been released from jail halfway through a sentence for rape.

What followed was a radical shake-up of Northern Ireland's sentencing and public protection policies.

The new conditional early release scheme recently launched by Justice Minister David Ford is not a return to the overly-lenient and dangerous 50% remission practice. Mr Ford has insisted that only low risk, well behaved offenders will be considered for release up to 135 days before the end of their sentence.

He said that his decision to launch the scheme was not about finances, but about rehabilitation of offenders. However, with constant concerns over prison resources and budget cuts, many critics believe this move is simply justice on the cheap.

The DUP's Stephen Moutray said he feared it was "another way of emptying the jails as quickly as possible".

Mr Moutray said that perpetrators of crime should not be "pandered to" and that the rights of victims should come first.

"The new early release scheme will do nothing to comfort the victims of crime and I personally would like to see the minister focus more on the victims and have those who committed the crime see out their full term in prison. Often, victims feel hurt at the leniency of sentencing and this scheme I believe rubs further salt in the wound," he said.

The MLA added: "As a country we must not deflect from our responsibility to ensure that justice is served when someone breaks the law and commits a crime.

"I personally have strong apprehension about this scheme and therefore will be ensuring that it is monitored and that it does not deter from tackling crime robustly and in a way that discourages further crime."

Belfast Telegraph

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