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Dublin: 8 °C Friday 18 October, 2019
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More than 300 prisoners are still slopping out

A further 261 are held in solitary confinement, some for 23 hours a day.

SOME 334 PRISONERS in Ireland are still slopping out, although the process has ended in most institutions.

The vast majority of these prisoners – 226 – are in Cork prison, while 59 and 49 are in Portlaoise and Limerick prisons respectively.

This marks a drop of  67 per cent since late 2010 when 1,003 prisoners were slopping out.

The process ended in Mountjoy Prison in Dublin last year. Construction on a new prison in Cork, which began in January, is expected to be completed by July 2015.

Some 1,637 prisoners nationally must use the toilet in the presence of others.

These statistics were among a number shared with the Dáil by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald recently

She said that last year saw the first “significant decrease” in prison numbers since 2007. There were 15,735 committals to prison in 2013, representing a drop of 7.6 per cent on the 2012 figure.

The average number of prisoners in custody rose from 3,321 in 2007 to 4,318 in 2012, an increase of over 30 per cent.

The total number of committals to prison also rose sharply during the same period, from 11,934 in 2007 to 17,026 in 2012 – an increase of over 43 per cent.

As of the 1 April, there were 4,103 prisoners in custody in Irish prisons.

There are currently 97 20-year-olds in prison, 69 19-year-olds, 50 18-year-olds and nine 17-year-olds.

Solitary confinement

261 prisoners are being held on a restricted regime, with 134 in solitary confinement for 21 hours every day and 43 alone for 23 hours per day.

The overall figure has increased from 228 since January. In the previous nine months, it had dropped by 76 per cent.

Fitzgerald said that a prisoner’s regime might be restricted at their own request or because they are vulnerable or “reasonably likely to cause significant harm” to other prisoners.

She said the fact that some prisoners are immediately separated from the general population or from specific prisoners identified as presenting a threat “clearly demonstrates the commitment of the Irish Prison Service to ensure their safety and security”.

The status of each prisoner on restricted regime within the prison system is regularly reviewed. If possible, prisoners can be transferred to other institutions where a restricted regime would not be necessary.

In July 2013, the Director General of the IPS established a group to look at potential mesaures to reduce the number of prisoners currently held on restricted regimes with a view to ensuring that all receive a minimum of three hours a day ‘out of cell time’ to engage in exercise or activity.

Since then the number of prisoners in solitary confinement has decreased from 339 to 261.

Of those currently on a restricted regime, 228 are for protection reasons (of which 226 are there at their own request). Some 13 are in their cell for 21 hours a day and 43 are housed for 23 hours per day.

Cell capacity

Some 2,044 prisoners have a single cell while 1,528 and 414 are in double and triple cells respectively, and 117 are in cells with four or more prisoners.

Fitzgerald said the IPS is not in a position to provide single cell accommodation to all prisoners “without releasing sizeable numbers of prisoners considered to represent a threat to public safety”.

She noted that the current redevelopment of all wings in Mountjoy Prison will see each cell being returned to single occupancy status. Some 543 prisoners in Mountjoy, 92 per cent, are in single cells at present.

“It should be borne in mind that in certain cases prisoners are housed together for reasons other than lack of capacity,” Fitzgerald remarked.

Family members and friends often elect or are assigned a shared cell. Shared cell accommodation can be very beneficial from a management point of view particularly for those who are vulnerable and at risk of self-harm. There will always be a need for certain prisoners to be accommodated together.

Related: Use of 23-hour solitary confinement has dropped by 76% in nine months

Read: End of an era: slopping out to officially end in Mountjoy this month

Read: Hundreds detained in Irish prisons each year over immigration issues

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Órla Ryan

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