Praise for prison plan amid capacity concerns

Penal system reformers have praised the construction of a new Cork prison — but are concerned about its increased capacity and plans to double up cells.

The prison, the subject of an Irish Examiner’s special report on Tuesday last, is nearing completion and will open at the end of the year.

The prison will have 169 cells and a capacity of 310 — although prison authorities expect to house between 250 and 275 inmates. All cells will have their own toilet, wash basin, and shower.

The current prison has a capacity of 173 according to the inspector of prisons and 210 according to the Irish Prison Service. It has an average population of about 230. It has been repeatedly condemned for slopping-out and overcrowding.

“The decision by Government to invest in a new prison in Cork at a time of scarce resources deserves significant praise, but it is also an indication of just how inhumane conditions are in the current prison,” said Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Irish Penal Reform Trust deputy executive director.

“When the new Cork Prison is completed the numbers slopping out across the Irish prison estate will be reduced to under 100, down from over 1,000 in 2011. This is real progress.”

She said the overall increase in capacity at the new prison was “an opportunity missed”.

“Plans for double occupancy run against best practice norms, and run counter to the European prison rules. This is not about luxury conditions: Single-cell occupancy supports good order and reduces tensions in prisons, making prisons safer for staff and prisoners alike.”

Ms Chinnéide said they were also concerned that the greater capacity “will see an increase in people imprisoned for less serious offences”.

She called for non-custodial initiatives, such as the Unlocking Community Alternatives, to be rolled out across the prison system.

She said it was crucial that there was “adequate educational, medical and psychiatric staffing” and enough work and training activity for all prisoners.

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