Five of the country’s prisons have up to one third more inmates than they have capacity for, according to data from the Department of Justice.
When all prisons are taken into account, the total population of 3,995 on July 16 accounted for 96% of bed capacity.
However, when the figure was broken down it showed that while some had less than 90% occupancy, a number of others were operating well above their capacity.
For example, Cork prison has bed spaces for 210 prisoners but it is currently housing 226 prisoners. It is a similar story in the male prison in Limerick, where there are 233 prisoners in a facility with bed capacity for 220.
The women’s prisons are also badly affected. At 36, Limerick woman’s prison’s occupancy is 129% of bed capacity. In the female wing of Mountjoy in Dublin, there are 128 women in a facility which should only cater to 105.
The figures were released by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald in response to a parliamentary question from Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins.
Ms Fitzgerald pointed out that the Irish Prison Service must accept all prisoners committed by the courts into its custody and does not have the option of refusing committals.
“It should be noted that this is the busiest time of the year for committals prior to the courts being in recess for the summer,” she said.
The 3,995 figure released by Ms Fitzgerald does not include a further 679 prisoners who are currently on temporary release. Of those, 131 had been incarcerated in Cork prison, a facility already operating at 108% of capacity.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust said it was concerned at the persistent chronic overcrowding in a number of prisons, particularly the two women’s prisons.
“The majority of female prison committals are for non-violent, less serious offences, and non-custodial alternatives are more effective in addressing such offending,” a spokeswoman said.
“In May 2013, the Irish Prison Service and the probation service published a joint strategy which committed to the greater use of diversion, community sanctions, supports and inter-agency co-operation for women who offend, given the particularly damaging impact of female imprisonment on families and communities. Yet since then, we have seen no action at all towards reducing female prison numbers or implementing more effective alternatives.”
IPRT also said conditions were particularly “acute” at Cork prison, where the combination of slopping-out and overcrowding in small cells amounted to “inhumane conditions”.
“Interim measures must be introduced while the replacement Cork prison is being built, including the reduction of prisoner numbers to single-cell capacity of 150,” the spokeswoman said. “The numbers on temporary release include around 130 on the Community Return programme, whereby suitable prisoners complete their sentences in the community. This programme, which reports over 90% compliance, is a good example of how prison numbers can be safely and effectively reduced.”
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