ALMOST 1,000 convicted criminals in Ireland are on temporary release, as the overcrowding crisis in the prison service worsens.
The number on release, which is the highest ever total amount, represents almost one fifth of all prisoners.
According to figures released by the Department of Justice, there are currently 933 prisoners on temporary release. This represents 17.8% of the total number of prisoners in the system on that day.
Portlaoise prison is Ireland’s only major jail that is not subject to overcrowding.
While the department and the Irish Prison Service insist everything is being done to alleviate overcrowding, there are still about 350 inmates sharing cells with at least three others.
A further 40 prisoners are in cells of five or more people following an increase of more than 10% in the numbers of people in custody over the past 12 months.
According to Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, all prisons have been consistently operating at their full bed capacity/occupancy rate or slightly over it in the last 12 months.
“It is quite clear that in some of our prisons, we are operating in excess of our bed capacity,” he said in a written response to a Dáil question.
Earlier this year it was revealed that more than two-thirds of the men in Limerick Prison are sharing cells with another person while one tenth are in cells of more than three people. In Cork prison there are 108 people in cells of three or more people, according to Department of Justice figures.
A spokesman for the Irish Prison Service yesterday acknowledged overcrowding is a problem, adding: “There are contingency plans in place in all of our prisons to deal with peak population numbers.”
Mountjoy has some of the worst overcrowding, with at least 50 prisoners in cells of four or more people while 290 are sharing a cell with one other. The only major prison in Ireland not overcrowded is the maximum security Portlaoise prison. According to figures released by the Department of Justice, Portlaoise has a bed capacity of 359 while the number of prisoners in custody there is only 271. Of these, 57 are classed as ‘subversive’ prisoners — members of paramilitary organisations. By contrast, Mountjoy has a bed capacity of 590 but houses 681 inmates.
The prison service is pinning its hope on a new tagging system to help reduce overcrowding. The service has now awarded a contract to a company to operate the pilot programme of electronic monitoring. It is expected the programme will be operational by the end of August. Some 20 prisoners will be tagged initially.
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