The prison population has been reduced by over 11% during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Data from the Irish Prison Service (IPS) sent to Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, states that, due to the granting of temporary release and a reduced number of committals from the courts, the prison population has reduced from 4,235 on March 11 to 3,763 on May 20. This represents a reduction of 472 or just over 11%.
An initial 470 prisoners were granted temporary release in March and since then, further periods of temporary release have been granted resulting in a total of over 600 prisoners being allowed to leave prison, including community return, since the outset of the pandemic.
The number of prisoners on temporary release has almost doubled since March, from 217 to 427.
The size of the prison population changes on a daily basis as new committals and remands are made by the courts and releases occur as prisoners reach the end of their sentences. However the data released is the best estimate from the Irish Prison Service.
The IPS has been hailed for the significant work undertaken to address the pandemic, as considerable challenges lay in tackling the spread of the virus in residential and confined spaces where people are sharing rooms. The service has hired 11 nurses this year, after six left the service in 2019.
The number of prisoners sharing cells reduced by 146 from 1,892 in January 2020 to 1,746 in April 2020, with May's numbers expected to be lower due to the number of prisoners released.
There have been 20 cases of Covid-19 in Irish prisons, two of which were hospitalised and no deaths have been reported. The data indicates that these cases were all staff.
To assist the IPS in reducing numbers of prisoners in custody, the Minister allowed for increased temporary release of low-risk prisoners who were serving sentences of less than 12 months for non-violent offences.
Subsequently, prisoners assessed as low risk who had less than 6 months to serve were also granted temporary release from some prisons depending on the risks present.
Prisoners granted temporary release were assessed on a case-by-case basis.
According to the Minister: "The primary factor in the consideration of any prisoner for early release remains public safety and risks assessed included any convictions for domestic abuse, such as breach of barring orders which present significant risks at the present time."
On May 19 there were 752 prisoners in custody with less than 6 months remaining on their sentence. However, many of these prisoners will not be eligible for temporary release due to the nature of their offence, the risk to public safety or further charges pending.