Prisons have been given a helping hand in keeping Covid-19 from their cells by a drop in the number of people being sent to jail.
The number of prisoners getting temporary release has also fallen by nearly a fifth from its coronavirus peak as pressure for space has eased within the prison system.
An analysis of daily counts published by the Irish Prison Service for the past two months shows how the total number of people in the prison system has fallen by more than 6% from previously high levels.
On March 12, there were 4,726 people “total prisoners in [the] system” of whom 363 were on temporary release.
However, by Wednesday of this week the total number within the entire prison system had fallen to 4,403 with 490 of them on temporary release.
The total figures include all those in custody, those on temporary release, people being detained in hospital or the Central Mental Hospital, and “lifers in the community”.
The number of people being given temporary release has also dropped significantly from the high of 600 it reached on April 3, according to official figures. It has been steadily trending downwards since and by Tuesday of this week, it had fallen by almost 20% from its peak at the beginning of last month.
The latest figures show that there were 484 prisoners on temporary release on Tuesday and 490 on temporary release as of Wednesday.
Of that, the largest number were from Mountjoy Men’s Prison (99), followed by Cork Prison (83), and Wheatfield in Dublin (77).
There were also 69 prisoners from Mountjoy Women’s Prison on temporary release with a further 108 in custody.
Another 25 women were on temporary release from Limerick Women’s Prison with just 20 remaining in custody, according to the Irish Prison Service records.
Arbour Hill – which is home to a large population of sex offenders – had no prisoners on temporary release on Wednesday of this week.
Similarly, the state’s high-security prison Portlaoise had only two prisoners on temporary release this week, both from the jail’s C-block.
The prison system is currently operating at around 87% of its bed capacity and that figure has dropped significantly since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. On February 26, the system was running at 97% of its bed capacity.
A spokesman for the Prison Service said it has been working closely with the Department of Justice and others to manage during the crisis with 572 prisoners granted temporary release since March 10: “Of course, public safety is absolutely paramount when deciding whether someone is suitable to early release.”