At 1st July 1988 there were 406 life sentence prisoners and 32 prisoners held at the Secretary of State’s pleasure in Northern Ireland.
This constitutes around 27% of the average daily prison population, a figure considerably higher than the average 6% which prevails in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Many of these prisoners were sentenced in the early of mid 1970’s and are now reaching the stage where if they had been sentenced in the rest of the UK they would be expecting review and release (unless there are psychiatric problems or a trial judge’s recommendation of a specially long minimum sentence).
They are reaching this stage in numbers in excess of anything experienced before in the history of the UK’s prison system.
The high number of life sentence prisoners in Northern Ireland is clearly attributable to the level of politically related violence and in particular, murder, over the last 20 years.
There is naturally considerable public concern over the impending release of people who have killed in the service of paramilitary organisations at a time when those organisations are still active.