Lifers allowed home from jail for Christmas

Maghaberry Prison
Maghaberry Prison

More than 30 life sentence prisoners are being allowed out of jail over Christmas.

They are among 108 convicted criminals granted temporary release for varying periods over the festive period.

The Department of Justice (DoJ) said conditions have been placed on all prisoners who have also had to undergo stringent risk assessments.

Some 44 prisoners are being released from Maghaberry jail, Northern Ireland’s only maximum security facility, in Co Antrim - 31 of whom are serving life sentences.

A further 51 have been granted home leave from Magilligan jail in Co Londonderry while eight young offenders and five female prisoners are being released from Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre and the adjoining women’s prison.

Last year 130 people were granted home leave for Christmas and all returned to prison, the DoJ said.

Home leave at Christmas is granted under two schemes -- one for determinate sentence prisoners jailed on or before October 31 and one for those approaching the end of their life sentence or who have been in custody for at least 10 years and have been undergoing successful periods of reintegration in the community.

People being held on remand are not eligible for home leave.

All prisoners are due back in their cells by January 4.

According to the Northern Ireland Prison Service website, there are seven convicts unlawfully at large.

They include 19-year-old Brendan McGuinness, who was jailed for drug offences but failed to return to Maghaberry after being allowed out on a pre-release scheme in 2002.

Thief Frank Shanley, 30, has been on the run since 2006 after a pre-release from Maghaberry in 2006.