Use of temporary release is highest in jails with the most serious overcrowding problem: Limerick, Cork, Dochas women’s prison, and Mountjoy.
It is the first time the number of temporary release decisions have been made available, thanks to the introduction of a data system in March.
The Prisoner Information Management System shows 75% of applications for temporary release were granted in the eight months since March.
There were 39,986 applications for temporary release and 30,388 were given and 8,360 (21%) refused. The number of cases do not reflect individual inmates, as most of the cases involve offenders who renew their temporary release every week.
A breakdown of the management system shows there were:
* 8,575 applications in Mountjoy, 6,363 (74%) were granted.
* 4,825 applications in Limerick, 3,905 (81%) were granted.
* 4,785 applications in Cork, 3,409 (71%) were granted.
* 3,293 applications in Dochas, 2,705 (82%) were granted.
These prisons have experienced persistently high levels of overcrowding.
Conditions there have been strongly criticised, with multiple inmates sharing cells where there is no toilet, and inmates “slopping out” in front of each other and also sharing meals in the cells.
Liam Herrick of the Irish Penal Reform Trust said: “Conditions are particularly bad in Cork Prison, with two to three men accommodated in cells designed for no more than one person and no in-cell sanitation. This makes increased overcrowding even more risky.
“In this context, the use of temporary release for suitable prisoners is a pragmatic solution, although far from ideal. We need to get the numbers down through an increased use of alternatives to prison by the courts, and for temporary release to instead be used for its original purpose which is to support the successful integration on release.”
He said the IPRT was very concerned at the dramatic increase in women being committed to Dochas, which was already overcrowded, resulting in high numbers of temporary release.
“Many of these women are serving short custodial sentences for less serious and non-violent offences, for which community-based alternatives are more appropriate, cheaper and less damaging to families and communities,” said Mr Herrick.
“That so many women prisoners are out on temporary release underlines the need for the courts to increase their use of non-custodial alternatives.”
A spokesman for the Irish Prison Service said the high numbers of temporary releases was largely due to the fact that the “majority” were renewable cases, which required a new decision to be made every week to renew or rescind the release.