Prisoners sleep on mattresses as new €44m Cork Prison runs out of space

Mattresses have been used in the country’s newest jail because of a space shortage.

Sources told the Irish Examiner that prisoners have had to sleep on mattresses up to five times in recent weeks in Cork Prison, which opened in February 2016 at a cost of €44m.

Sources said mattresses were used in the committal area, which temporarily houses inmates on arrival, because there was no space on the main landings.

When the Irish Examiner put the reports to the Irish Prison Service, it confirmed that six prisoners had been placed on mattresses on three occasions. The service said five inmates had to sleep on mattresses for two nights.

“The Irish Prison Service can confirm that on the night of the 27 February last one person was sleeping on a mattress on a floor in Cork Prison, on the 28 February and the 1 March five persons were required to sleep on a mattress on the floor,” it said. The IPS said this was down to the volume of people being sent to the jail.

“The Prison Service must take all persons committed by the courts and does not have the option to refuse to take committals, regardless of available spaces,” it said.

The statement said the situation had been resolved by transferring some prisoners to other institutions and said there had been “no further occurrences”.

IPS figures show there were 292 inmates in Cork Prison on February 28 and 291 on March 1 in a prison with a capacity of 296.

Prison sources said the area affected by the space shortage was the committal unit B1. This is where new prisoners are temporarily housed on entry so that they can be seen by a nurse and a doctor, and the governor. After 24 hours, the new prisoners are assigned to cells on the A and B landings.

Sources indicated that issues resulting from the large number of protection prisoners were, on occasion, preventing the new committals from moving up.

“The reason is the lack of space on A and B landings,” said the source. “The issue is protection prisoners, which means that the committals are not moving on as quickly as they should and are being held over.”

Another source said: “This should not be happening with a new prison.

“There is an extra workload looking after protection prisoners. You have to make sure they are not in contact with the others.”

However, the IPS said protection prisoners are not a factor.

IPS figures show there were 51 inmates on restricted regimes in Cork in January compared to 49 last October, 42 last July, and 50 last April. They were only 26 in October 2015 and 17 in January 2016 (in the old Cork Prison).

The 51 restricted prisoners included 48 on protection (47 voluntarily, for their own safety). The 48 accounted for 18% of the prison population in Cork — the third highest in the country after Limerick (32%) and Mountjoy (28%).

Prison sources also said they were concerned at the drop in prison officer numbers in Cork, which they estimate are down about 25 staff, or over 10%. The IPS said there are only 3.5 prison officer vacancies in the jail.

Prison sources said there are 200 staff down across the service but the IPS puts the figure at 57. The IPS said with the restart of recruitment last June, 80 recruit prison officers would come on stream in 2017, increasing to at least 216 in 2018.

Amid reports of drug availability in the prison, the IPS said there were four seizures in 2017, and 38 last year.

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