Numbers in women’s prison continue to rise

The number of offenders in Dóchas Women’s Prison continues to rise with 135 inmates packed into a jail with 105 beds.

But the overcrowding crisis in the country’s most crammed and condemned prisons — Cork and Limerick — is easing, with sharp reductions in numbers. Figures in the troubled St Patrick’s Institution for Young Offenders are also down dramatically.

Penal reformers welcomed the drop in numbers in Cork, Limerick, and St Patrick’s, but remain deeply concerned at sanitary conditions, particularly in Cork.

Daily prison figures, which the Irish Prison Service started publishing on its website, show:

*Total bed capacity (4,419) and the numbers in custody (4,247) remain largely unchanged;

*Custody numbers in Dóchas rose from 125 in 2012 to 135 yesterday (bed capacity is unchanged at 105);

*Inmate numbers in Cork dropped from 259 to 226 (capacity has fallen from 252 to 210);

*Limerick custody numbers fell from 261 to 227 (capacity down from 263 to 220);

*Custody numbers in St Patrick’s dropped from 204 to 153 (capacity down from 217 to 191).

Liam Herrick, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, said the rising numbers in Dóchas had been a trend for a while: “It’s very worrying: the increase in population and the resultant overcrowding.”

Mr Herrick said the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service were working on a joint women’s strategy. “There is a particularly high number of women on short sentences who are more appropriately dealt with through the homeless and addiction services.”

He said the falling numbers in Cork and Limerick prisons were positive, but added a major caveat: “Particularly in relation to Cork you have to bear in mind the capacity is still unacceptable and reflects doubling up of cells. We are very, very concerned at the conditions there, particularly slopping out and the lack of adequate toilet patrols.”

Mr Herrick said while there were promises to build a new Cork prison it was still some way off and the current prison would be operating for years. He said he was concerned Cork Prison was “being neglected”.

He welcomed the fall in numbers in St Patrick’s, but added that it reflected, in part, the absence of 16-year-olds (now under the care of the Youth Justice Service). He said it could also reflect a reluctance on the courts to send 17-year-olds to the jail given the Inspector of Prisons Report on the institute.

Mr Herrick welcomed the publication of daily prison numbers, saying regular, accurate data was crucial for informing public policy.

The Irish Prison Service also said there were 672 prisoners (13%) on temporary release, including 133 on the Community Return Scheme and 188 jailed for not paying a court fine.

Elsewhere, figures show half of all inmates are earning €15.40 a week for good behaviour, with most of the remainder earning a standard €11.90.

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