Reform of the Process for Life Sentenced Prisoners

Dr. Diarmuid Griffin’s  has done extensive work involving the sentencing and the release of life sentence prisoners. He has been working and advocating for the reform of the process governing the release of life sentence prisoners for over 10 years. This culminated in the passing of the Parole Act 2019 in July of this year.

There was little information on the release of life sentence prisoners prior to Diarmuid’s research. After publishing his empirical research findings on parole, he worked with journalists to disseminate the research to the public. The findings, which highlighted problems with the political nature of parole decision-making, attracted significant public attention. Over a number of years, he provided information and interviews to the print and broadcast media. The Irish Times, in an editorial on the need for reform, wrote that ‘Dr Griffin’s detailed analysis pinpoints serious deficiencies in how the parole system operates and sets out how it can be improved’. In response, Jim O’Callaghan TD wrote in The Irish Times that it was ‘a timely opportunity for [reform]’. He later drafted the Parole Bill and described Diarmuid’s research as being a ‘major contributing factor’ in this regard. The new legislation removes the Minister for Justice as the key decision-maker and instead empowers a Parole Board to determine at what point a life sentence prisoner is released back into society.

During the legislative process, he worked with the Irish Penal Reform Trust to advocate for improvements to the legislation and his work was referenced by parliamentarian’s during the Dáil and Seanad Debates. Deirdre Malone, former Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, stated that ‘Dr Griffin has been steadfast in his commitment and dedication to this area which has seen little attention to date’. Over a number of years he requested parliamentary questions be asked of various Ministers’ for Justice on issues relating to the reform of life imprisonment and parole. His research was also cited in a recent landmark judgment of the Supreme Court that set out sentencing guidelines for judges in homicide cases.

 As well as his work on legal reform and public policy, Diarmuid has also worked with life sentence prisoners. In January 2019 he began a series of seminars and workshops with life sentence prisoners in custody facilitated by Midlands Prisons. Midlands Prison holds a significant portion of Ireland’s life sentence prisoner population. He worked with Dr Deirdre Healy, a psychologist in UCD, on delivering the programme. The workshops focused on providing information to prisoners on the stages of the parole process as well as workshops on addressing key issues such as engaging in rehabilitative services and reducing the risk of reoffending on release.