Regular overcrowding at the new Cork prison has been blamed on the ongoing construction work at Limerick prison.
A spokesperson for the Irish Prison Service says that the works at Limerick prison have restricted the ability to transfer prisoners between the two facilities and, as such, has resulted in regular overcrowding in Cork. It is also causing capacity issues at the men's and women's prisons in Limerick.
The new Cork Prison opened in early 2016. The €42 million state-of-the-art facility replaced the old Cork Prison, which was located on the Rathmore Road just a few hundred metres from the new building. The old prison dated from the 1820s and had suffered from frequent overcrowding.
However, figures issued by the Irish Prison Service indicate that there are still issues at the new facility. The Prison Service published daily prison population figures. Since January 10, Cork Prison has been at 98% or higher every day. This week, that figure has not dropped below 100%. On Tuesday, there were 300 prisoners in the 296-capacity prison, while yesterday that figure stood at 297. Last Thursday, there were 304 at the prison.
The trend follows similar issues last year. There were two occasions in December where eight inmates slept on mattresses due to capacity issues, while last July, this number hit 21 on two occasions.
There are also concerns about Limerick men's and women's prisons. The men's prison has been at 97% or higher capacity every day this year, while the 28 capacity women's facility has not dropped below 136% capacity. Yesterday, there were 44 inmates at the women's prison.
The matter has been raised in the Dáil by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, such is the frequency of the issue.
A spokesperson for the Irish Prison Service said that there are a number of factors contributing to the issue: "It has to be acknowledged that the Irish Prison Service does not have the option of refusing committals and must accept all prisoners committed by the Courts regardless of available spaces."
"Where the number of prisoners exceeds the maximum capacity in any prison, officials make every effort to deal with this through a combination of inter-prison transfers and structured temporary release.
"This level of occupancy, for various reasons, is not equally spread among all the prisons. For example, the excess capacity in the open prisons cannot be used for prisoners who can only be appropriately accommodated in closed prisons or for female prisoners. Equally, it may not be possible for prisoners from one part of the country to be transferred away from their social and family networks to other parts of the country where there may be additional capacity. The Irish Prison Service makes every effort to keep prisoners as close to their family as possible, where appropriate, to assist in their rehabilitation and reintegration."
In Munster, the issues are being exacerbated by ongoing construction works at Limerick prison.
The spokesperson said: "The construction of the new accommodation in Limerick prison is adding to the pressure being experienced in that prison, but is also having a knock-on effect in Cork Prison as it is restricting the ability to transfer prisons between these prisons. Once the new build in Limerick prison is complete, it will increase daily capacity by 105 males. The female unit there, when completed, will consist of 42 rooms and eight independent living units. This is a significant increase on the current capacity of 28 in Limerick female prison."