By Conor Kane
Irish prisons are currently operating at 92% capacity following a spike in prison numbers over the last six months, with the level of remand prisoners and women prisoners on the way up.
The figures were confirmed by the Irish Prison Service after prison officers today complained of overcrowding across the prison system, with some inmates sleeping on mattresses.
President of the Prison Officers Association, Stephen Delaney said most, if not all, of the prisons across the country are now “overcrowded” and called on the open prisons at Shelton Abbey in Co Wicklow and Loughan House in Monaghan to be used more than they are.
The training unit at Mountjoy, which was closed some years ago, should also be re-opened to take the pressure off existing accommodation, he said.
“In terms of accommodation, they are sleeping on mattresses, they are doubling up [in cells]. You’re relocating one prisoner from one landing to the next to ensure his safety as he cannot associate with a different faction. If you were to alleviate that problem you would need new facilities, such as the training unit, release people out of the major prisons into the open centres.”
The “single occupancy” regime for cells which has lately been promoted across the service is “under threat and has been reversed on a daily basis,” Mr Delaney said.
“You need space, you need facilities and you need the open centres full. We believe there is huge potential for the offenders to go to but for some reason the employer is not utilising those centres sufficiently and of course the training unit.”
The director-general of the prison service, Michael Donnellan, accepted that there are “pressure points” within the system the system, but pointed out that there is refurbishment work going on at the moment at units within the remand system in Cloverhill Prison and at the Dóchas women’s prison in Mountjoy, while work on a new 50-person unit for women is due to start at Limerick prison in the coming months.
“The two big pressure points are remand prisoners, numbers have gone up, and women prisoners, numbers have gone up.”
Asked why he thought the amount of women prisoners is rising, Mr Donnellan said: “We have started from a very low base in Ireland on women [prisoners], so we have approximately six percent of our prison population is women, but over the last number of years we’ve seen a sustained increase in women.
“It’s very difficult to figure out why. There are different criminogenic needs of women.”