Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now

Dramatic 45 per cent increase in numbers sent to prison

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

A corridor at Mountjoy Prison
A corridor at Mountjoy Prison
Image: Photocall Ireland

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.

Making a difference

A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article.

Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can make sure we can keep reliable, meaningful news open to everyone regardless of their ability to pay.

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’>

About the author:

Michael Freeman

Read next: