Six out of 10 people sent to Cork Prison are jailed for non-payment of court fines, putting huge pressure on the system.
The vast majority are released back out on the same day, according to an analysis of one month’s figures.
Both the governor of Cork Prison, Jim Collins, and the head of the Prison Service, Michael Donnellan, said these people should not be in prison and the continuing practice placed a “huge burden” not just on Cork, but the prison system in general.
The practice is a major factor in the continuing overcrowding blighting the Dickensian prison, which had 230 inmates at the end of November in a prison designed for 143.
“Cork has been the most overcrowded prison since 1982, since the then minister for justice decided to double up with bunk beds in the single cells,” said Mr Collins.
He said 330 men were crammed into the prison in 2010, when up to 60 inmates slept on the floors.
Mr Collins said he was obliged to take all committals from court. Prison Service figures show there were 2,599 committals to the prison up to last November, compared with 1,739 in 2008.
The figures show that fine defaulting has driven the increase with 58% of committals this year fine-related, compared to 24% in 2008.
“It’s an issue for me,” said Mr Collins. “The man hours spent, the processing, the discharging. It’s all time- consuming.”
He said that, between Oct 15 last and Nov 14 there were 177 fine committals. Of these, 167 (94%) were given temporary release, 156 (88%) on the same day.
“People given short terms for fines don’t need to be in prison; take 50c off their dole instead,” said Mr Collins. “If a bank made a bad call with a loan and the person can’t pay, take a euro off a week. Sending them to jail does not do anything. Prison should be for those who are dangerous and a risk to society.”
He said the Prison Service had made a concerted effort to cut overcrowding, partly by transferring more inmates to Midlands Prison.
Transfer figures show 1,079 inmates were transferred out in 2011, 946 in 2012 and 903 up to November this year.
Of an average daily prison population of 388 in 2013, 158 (41%) were on temporary release, compared to 14% in 2008.
Mr Collins and Mr Donnellan said the solution to much of Cork’s problems — the slopping out and the crumbling infrastructure — lies with the new prison, which will have in-cell sanitation.
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