We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

A corridor at Mountjoy Prison Photocall Ireland

Dramatic 45 per cent increase in numbers sent to prison

However, the number of prison staff has actually fallen over the last five years.

THE NUMBER OF prison sentences handed out annually has risen dramatically, with a 45 per cent increase over five years.

Some 17,318 committals to prison were handed down in 2011. In 2007, the number was less than 12,000.

The total average prison population has also risen sharply, from 3,321 to 4,389. However, the proportional growth of 32 per cent is less than for the number of committals, suggesting that the major increase has been in short sentences handed out for minor offences.

These figures are contained in a new strategic plan (pdf here) released by the Prison Service, which warns that Ireland’s jails are under “enormous strain”. Meanwhile the number of staff has actually fallen since 2007 – from 3,350 to 3,310 five years later.

The plan sets out strategies to contain what it calls “chronic overcrowding” over the next three years, bringing prisoner numbers into line with those recommended by the Inspector for Prisons.

It also contains a commitment to introduce in-cell toilets for all prisoners in the same time period, ending the controversial practice of “slopping out”.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said the targets were “concrete and practical, if ambitious”. He told prison governors:

If you embrace the objectives outlined in this strategic plan [...] then together you can make the changes that  are  required  to  transform  the  prison system in a progressive and positive way.

Measures to reduce the pressure on prisons and staff include the roll-out of a new “Community Return Programme” for up to 400 prisoners serving sentences of one to eight years. An increase in the number of parole reviews for long-term and life prisoners is also planned.

It’s hoped welfare measures for warders will help to reduce staff sick leave by 33 per cent over three years.

The document also details further rehabilitation programmes and “incentivised” regimes – under which prisoners could receive better facilities and the chance to spend more in the ‘tuck shop’ in return for good behaviour – in prisons to combat reoffending.

Drug free units will be introduced within all closed prisons over the next three years, the plan says.

The document has been welcomed by the Irish Penal Reform Trust. Its director Liam Herrick said:

After decades of misguided prison expansion and an apparent lack of effective policy, IPRT believes this Strategic Plan puts forward a coherent approach to prison policy and planning, based on sound principles.

However, he said targets needed to be supported by “adequate resourcing”.

More: Prison officer ‘slashed across face and hands with razor blades’>

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.