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Irish prison strategy aims to tackle threat of drones but overcrowding remains major challenge

The Justice Minister launched the Irish Prison Service Strategic Plan 2019-2022 yesterday.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Kletr

THE NUMBER OF people in custody in Irish prisons has steadily increased in the past 18 months, according to the Irish Prison Service Strategic Plan 2019-2022.

Launched yesterday by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, the plan outlines how the prison service can support its staff, prisoners and provide good governance in the coming years.

Reacting to the plan, the Irish Penal Reform Trust welcomed the vision of the plan but said strategic goals won’t be met unless “prisoner numbers are reduced and overcrowding addressed”. 

The report notes that while the Irish prison population peaked at 4,390 in 2011, numbers have increased by 11% since January 2018 with the number of people in prison exceeding 4,000 on a regular basis. 

“The challenge of managing the prison population has increased,” the report says. “The Irish Prison Service faces increased demand for the provision of effective interventions and support aimed at promoting desistance and reducing reoffending.”

It also notes that there 133 spaces for women offenders within the Irish prison service, but this number is regularly exceeded. On 31 March 2019, there were 179 women in custody and this has increased 21% in the past two years.

90350249_90350249 File photo. Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Furthermore, the number of people over the age of 50 in prison has doubled over the past 10 years.

As part of its strategic plan through to 2022, the five “pillars” it wants to improve on are staff support, prisoner support, safe and secure custody, the prison estate and governance. 

Within staff support, the plan says it wants to “cultivate pride in our uniform” and provide a safer working environment for its workers.

For prisoners, it says it wants to improve mental health for those in custody, increase participation in rehabilitative services and assist with improved employment opportunities for offenders after they’re released.

When it comes to safe and secure custody, the aim of the Irish Prison Service includes the creation of a “more modern, technology driven” prison estate. 

It wants to focus on “tackling the increasing threats posed by drone incursions into prisons” and “investing in front of house security measures to prevent contraband smuggling”. 

In recent times, prison officers have highlighted how drones are used to smuggle contraband into Irish prisons, and Minister Flanagan has described them as a “threat to prison security”.


The report also notes an increase in the number of people “committed to prison with severe and enduring mental illnesses, which presents challenges in providing appropriate access to mental health services and facilities”. 

One of the hoped-for outcomes of the new strategic plan is the provision of forensic mental health services in all closed prisons.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust said that people with mental health issues should be diverted to “more appropriate settings”. 

Its executive director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said: “Ireland continues to be over-reliant on prison as a response to persistent low-level offending. 

Prison numbers must be reduced through increased use of community sanctions, and joined-up thinking across health, housing, education and other areas outside the criminal justice system. No one should be sent to prison due to a lack of services or a safe place in the community.

About the author:

Sean Murray

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