The loans were for a variety of purposes, including the purchase of games consoles and stereos, and for the cost of communions and confirmations.
One female prisoner at the Dóchas Centre, Dublin, used a €300 loan to buy a dog, last year, while an inmate at Limerick Prison borrowed €290 to pay back money owed to the tuck shop.
The interest-free loans are repaid by deducting an amount from the prisoner’s pocket money each week. Inmates receive an allowance of up to €2.20 per day, which is usually spent on items available from the tuck shop or on services, such as television rental.
The Irish Prison Service (IPS) has said that all loans are repaid “in general”, although inmates can walk away from the debt if they get released earlier than planned.
“The criteria for providing loans to a prisoner are determined by each governor,” said a spokesperson for the IPS.
“Loans are given to prisoners for numerous reasons. For example, confirmations, communions, family birthdays, for issue to family members, to purchase radios and Playstations, toiletries, etc.
“Repayment plans are put in place based on a number of criteria — such as release dates, available cash balances — to ensure they are repaid prior to release. In general, all loans are repaid, unless a prisoner is released earlier.”
Records released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that €498,708 was given to convicted criminals by the IPS in interest-free loans in the past three years.
Midlands Prison, Portlaoise, which houses notorious killers Graham Dwyer, Mark Nash, and Gerald Barry, provided €139,880 in loans to its prisoners during that period — more than any other jail.
The next-biggest lender was Mountjoy Prison in Dublin, where prisoners borrowed €88,003 over three years. The Dóchas Centre, on the Mountjoy campus, where female offenders are detained, provided €30,366 in loans to its inmates.
A shortlist of examples, in respect of loans that were approved last year, was provided by the IPS. These included a €300 Christmas loan for a prisoner in Mountjoy, €300 for an Xbox at Limerick Prison, €300 for a stereo at Midlands Prison, and €300 for a dog at the Dóchas Centre.
“When a loan is given to a prisoner, a direct debit is set up to automatically debit the prisoner’s account each Sunday night,” said the IPS spokesperson. “The repayment amount is determined by the value of the loan, the regime the prisoner is on, and the expected release date of the prisoner.”