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Dublin: 8°C Monday 26 October 2020

Women's prison population one third over capacity

Poor living conditions and substandard visiting conditions in state’s two female prisons.

An empty corridor in the women's prison at Mountjoy, Dublin
An empty corridor in the women's prison at Mountjoy, Dublin
Image: Photocall Ireland

THE NUMBER OF Irish women behind bars is one third higher than maximum capacity on the eve of international women’s day, with chronic overcrowding on the rise in the state’s two specialist female jails.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) said today that overcrowding is so acute that women had in the past been forced to share beds and still frequently share cells. She added that prisons have been consistently over capacity since 2009.

Irish Prison Service figures show that a total of 172 women will bed down tonight in the two prisons, the Dochas centre in Dublin and Limerick women’s prison, in facilities with a joint recommended capacity of 129.

The average daily female prison population for 2013 was 156, in excess of maximum recommended capacity at 130. This itself was a climb from 2012, when the average figure was 152. IPRT acting executive director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said that prisons have been consistently over capacity since 2009.

Alleviation measures

She added that measures brought in to reduce the size of the male prison population, such as community return programmes, had not been replicated for women’s jails.

All the progressive developments we are seeing across the male prison estate must be extended to the female prison estate. The negative impact on families and communities of imprisoning increasing numbers of women for non-violent and less serious offences, including fines default, cannot be overstated.

She said that the conditions in Limerick Women’s Prison were particularly bad, with sub-standard visiting facilities that did not allow visiting children to properly play and interact with their mothers.

The situation is so extreme that female prisoners from Limerick had asked to serve their terms in Dublin, further from home, to take advantage of better facilities there.

She urged Minister for Justice and Equality Alan Shatter to follow through on a committment he made this week to bring visiting conditions in Limerick up to scratch.

Ní Chinneide said that prison should be reserved for serious offenders who present an ongoing risk to society, and that the problem of imprisonment for minor crimes was particularly pressing for women.

The majority of (women offenders) are imprisoned for less serious, non-violent offences. It is in everybody’s interest that offending behaviour is not just punished but addressed-and this can be achieved better in the community

Limerick prison still ‘chronically overcrowded’ despite report signalling improvements>

‘Constant and unacceptable level of overcrowding’ at Cork prison>

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Jack Horgan-Jones

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