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Capacity reached 164% in one prison this week. ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
Irish Prisons

Irish Penal Reform Trust express 'grave concern' as bed capacity reaches 100% across prison estate

Limerick’s female prison has reached highs of 164% capacity.

LAST UPDATE | 3 Feb 2023

THE IRISH PENAL Reform Trust (IPRT) has expressed “grave concern” about figures which show that the number of beds across the Irish prison estate has reached capacity.

It means the total number of people in prison exceeds the number of beds available.

The official figures, published by the Irish Prison Service this week, showed the combined capacity across prisons in the Republic of Ireland has now hit 100%.

In total, 4,416 people were in prison across the prison estate in Ireland at the beginning of the week, with only 4,411 beds available.

While some prisons have not reached full capacity, others have far exceeded its bed capacity.

For example, while capacity at Shelton Abbey in Co Wicklow is at 88%, several others are operating at between 97% and 99% capacity.

Meanwhile, six prisons are above capacity.

Limerick’s female prison reached highs of 164% capacity this week, while its male prison reached 119% capacity.

Elsewhere, Mountjoy’s male division is at 103% capacity, with its female prison operating at 110% capacity. 

The IPRT has warned that “numbers continue to grow” and noted that there were 750 people in Irish prisons in 1970. 

This almost trebled to 2,100 in 1990 and reached 2,948 in 2000.

It was reported last month that up to 50 prisoners have been sleeping on mattresses on the floors of Irish prisons due to overcrowding.

The IPRT said this “paints a picture of the extent of the issue” and has called on the Justice Minister Simon Harris to “make immediate efforts” to “reduce the number of people sent to prison and to support a move away from responses to offending that cause unnecessary further harm to people and their families”.   

IPRT Acting Executive Director Molly Joyce said: “The Government has indicated that they are committed to exploring the policy of ‘prison as a last resort’ through providing alternatives to prison such as community-based sanctions where appropriate.

“The policy position is there but we can see by the growth in numbers of people in prison that the policy is far from reality on the ground.”

While Joyce welcomed reductions in the use of imprisonment in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, she added that “recent data suggests this has not been sustained and we are back to business as usual”.

She also warned that the “amount of people in prison accelerated in 2022 and the numbers are continuing to grow into 2023”.

Joyce labelled this a “watershed moment for Irish prisons” and said that “without strong action from Government, the problems caused by this rapid rate of increase will continue”.

The IPRT’s acting executive director further stated that the overcrowding risks diminishing “rehabilitative services”.

She called for a “move away from practices that rely heavily on imprisonment” and added: “There continues to be an over-reliance on imprisonment for people convicted of less serious offences, despite its damaging social and economic impact on individuals, families, and communities.” 

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