Unveiling the plans yesterday, Justice Minister Alan Shatter said he would not know until the autumn whether the Government will have the money to fund the projects.
A top-level Government report said that if the high level of early release of inmates continues there was a “real risk” of undermining public confidence in the system.
The Thornton Hall Review Group also warned that the state faced “significant legal and financial risk” from the continuing practice of slopping out in certain prisons.
The group’s two main recommendations are:
* A scaled-down Thornton Hall, involving 300 cells, capable of accommodating 500 prisoners. The initial plans for the prison envisaged 1,400 cells, to house 2,200 inmates.
* Closure of Cork Prison “at the earliest possible opportunity” and construction of a prison at Kilworth, Co Cork, with 200 cells, capable of holding up to 350 prisoners. It recommends “step-down” facilities housing 200 prisoners in Thornton and 150 in Kilworth.
The group said Cork Prison was “extremely overcrowded” and in need of “urgent and immediate attention”. It said it had a design capacity for 150 prisoners, but on June 29 last, it had 300 prisoners in custody and 166 prisoners (36% of its inmates) on temporary, or early, release.
The group said the scaled-down Thornton Hall would mean that Mountjoy would have to remain open.
The group said numbers in the prison system, which was already under “considerable pressure,” were “forecast to rise substantially”.
The report recommends more alternatives to custody, including earned early release, home detention and periodic imprisonment.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust welcomed the plans, and said they marked a “new departure” in Government policy.