Nearly half of females jailed out on release

The overcrowding crisis in women’s prisons continues to deepen, with 40% of female inmates being let out on temporary release due to a dire shortage of space.

It comes as Prison Service director general Michael Donnellan will attend the Prison Officers’ Association annual delegate conference today.

Alan Shatter had been due to attend.

The latest figures for the month of March 2014 show that there was a total female prison population of 280.

Of these, 167 were in custody, while 113 (40%) were on temporary release (TR). A breakdown of the two female jails show:

Mountjoy Female (Dóchas) had an average of 136 women in custody in March, with 66 on TR (33% of the total population of 202)

Limerick Female had an average of 31 in custody, with 47 on TR (60% of the total population of 78).

The two female prisons are significantly more overcrowded than all the male prisons, apart from Cork Prison where general conditions, particularly sanitary, are much worse. The jail is being replaced by a modern prison, currently under construction.

Cork had an average total prison population of 364 in March: 233 in custody and 131 (36%) on TR. The average rate of TR for all 15 jails was 19% in March.

The dire situation in the women’s prisons has resulted from an almost doubling in the number of women being committed to jail over the last five years — from 1,225 in 2008 to 2,326 in 2013.

Dóchas has a maximum capacity of 105, but now has 138 in custody on an average day.

Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly has warned about the situation which he said leads to “tensions” and “arguments” between female inmates.

Limerick Female, an older institution than Dóchas, has cells doubled-up, with a stated capacity of 29. It has 31 women there on average at the moment.

Mr Shatter had admitted that the rise in female committals was a “major issue”. He said part of the problem was the lack of accommodation and other supports in the community for women on release.

The construction of wings at Limerick Prison is due to create 50 spaces for women.

The Prison Service is working with the Probation Service and other agencies to try and address the wider problem.

New figures also show that there has been a small rise in the total number of committals between January and March this year, compared with the same period in 2013 — from 4,071 to 4,103. This translates to 3,870 people last year to 3,913 so far this year.

The rise, although small, comes on the back of a significant fall in committals in 2013, dropping from 17,026 in 2012 to 15,735 in 2013.

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