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Cloverhill Prison (pictured) is currently at 110% capacity. Alamy

More prisoners on temporary release in attempt to tackle Irish Prison Service overcrowding

Last week, there were 126 more people in custody than beds in Irish prisons.

THE IRISH PRISON Service is using temporary release services to relieve continued overcrowding in the prison system, it has been claimed.

There are currently more than 5,200 people registered in the Irish prison system, even though the system only has capacity for just over 4,500 people.

The figure accounts for all people currently registered in the Irish prison system, including prisoners in custody, on any form of temporary release, those receiving treatment in hospital or those in the Central Mental Hospital.

Up-to-date figures, published daily by the service, show that 4,641 people are currently in custody in Irish prisons – 126 more people than there are beds in the system.

Official figures also show that most Irish prisons are currently above capacity.

According to one source, the Irish Prison Service is using these services to release inmates back into communities under supervision in a bid to tackle overcrowding.

This is achieved through a system known as ‘Temporary Release’, which is provided to prisoners who are released from custody for a specific time and reason based on their behaviour while in in custody.

Some of those given temporary release require strict supervision and monitoring for an extended period of time, while others could be granted a short temporary release to attend a course or a family occasion, such as a funeral.

The supervision is carried out by those in the State’s Probation Service, the agency whose job it is to assess and manage offenders who have been placed back in the community.

The number of inmates on temporary release reached over 400 last week, with the majority of those under some kind of supervision.

In March and April of this year, anywhere between 350 and 380 inmates were given early release from their sentence. As of 3 November, a total of over 400 inmates were on some type of temporary release – this number fluctuates daily. Journalist Ken Foxe reported that some inmates, who were serving sentences for violent crimes such as homicide, had also been granted temporary release in an effort to tackle the overcrowding.

Of the over 400 inmates who were placed on temporary release for the duration of the weekend, the majority (251) were under some kind of supervision.

During the same period in 2021, the figure, although high, rarely reached 300 and the majority of the inmates were on temporary release in order to be reintegrated back into society.

Saoirse Brady, the executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), claimed that the Prison Service is using temporary release as a “release valve” to alleviate the pressure the system is facing from overcrowding.

Brady told The Journal: “While temporary release can be can be a good mechanism to alleviate the number of people in prison, it should really be based on the individual and it shouldn’t be done in an unstructured way”.

A spokesperson for the Irish Prison Service said decisions in relation to temporary release are “considered on a case by case basis and the safety of the public is paramount when those decisions are made”.

They added that before a final determination is made a number of factors are taken into account including the nature of the original offence, any previous criminal records, the length of the sentence and the risk for reoffending, committing crime or failing to comply with conditions while released.

Probation Supervision

The majority of inmates are being released through “Other Temporary Release including under Probation Supervision” – a type of release where the prisoners are monitored closely by the Probation Service.

The number of people released under supervision frequently breaches 150, whereas in 2021 this number would rarely reach 100.

the-probation-service-offices-in-smithfield-dublin-ireland-it-is-the-state-agency-for-assessing-and-managing-offenders-in-the-community The Probation Service main offices in Smithfield, Dublin City. Alamy Alamy

Justice Minister Helen McEntee confirmed in July that prisons are choosing inmates who are fit to be candidates for the scheme in order to relieve the service of overcrowding and make way for more inmates.

“Where the number of prisoners exceeds the maximum capacity in any prison, the Irish Prison Service make every effort to address the issue through a combination of inter- prison transfers and carefully selecting candidates for Temporary Release,” she said.

Brady believes that decisions on temporary release are currently being motivated by a need “to reduce the number in prison” and says its use is currently “quite unstructured”.

The use of supervised release to alleviate overcrowding comes as the Probation Service has seen the number of officers resigning or retiring outpace those being hired.

According to the service’s annual reports from 2019 to 2022, at least 92 staff members have retired or resigned within that period.

This figure could be higher due to the service only mentioning resignations in one out of the four reports.

Within the same period, based on the same reports, The Journal calculated that a total of 82 staff members were employed – with the majority of them being assigned as probation officers.

Brady said that from the IPRT’s view, every individual in prison should have a plan put in place, by both the Prison and Probation Services, for when and how they are released upon entry.

She disagreed with this “unstructured” use of temporary release and told The Journal that she thinks that the service should be looking at who could be released out of the around 900 people who were being held on remand (as of 3 November).

There are 421 people employed in the probation service, as of 2022. It remains unclear how many of the employees are specified probation officers.


In a bid to address overcrowding McEntee said in July that Castlerea Prison, Cloverhill Prison, the Midlands Prison and Mountjoy Prison were set to receive short- to medium-term capital projects to deliver a minimum of 620 beds.

Brady said that this year’s annual report from the Irish Prison Inspector detailed sightings of inmates who were sleeping on mattresses close to the toilets due to the lack of beds inside the prisons.

Midlands Prison has reached 106% capacity, while Cloverhill and Castlerea currently house 110% of its capacity limits.

Currently, all institutions in Mountjoy – the men’s prison, the Dóchas centre and the training unit – have exceeded or reached 100% of capacity limits.

The men’s prison on the Mountjoy campus has 108 inmates on some type of temporary release, based on the most recent report.

A spokesperson for the Irish Prison Service said the service has “come under increasing operational stress due to an unprecedented increase in prisoner population numbers”.

They told The Journal that throughout 2023, the prison service has been operating above 100% capacity, reaching as high as 107%.

This recent bout of overcrowding was brought to the attention of the Department of Justice in the Dáil in as early as December 2022 when Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív put the issue to then-justice minister Heather Humphreys.

Ó Cuív asked how overcrowding in the Women’s Limerick Prison would be managed as, at the time, the prison was at 154% capacity.

Humphreys said that the Prison Service has “no control over the numbers committed to custody at any given time” and said the system is “subject to peaks and troughs”.

limerick-city-ireland-15th-september-2023-fine-gael-think-in-pictured-below-minister-for-social-protection-heather-humphreys-credit-karlis-dzjamko Minister Heather Humphreys said that the Prison Service has "no control over the numbers committed to custody at any given time" Alamy Alamy

“Numbers are particularly high when the courts are at their busiest and following the return to a more normal level of court activity now that Covid restrictions have been lifted, committal numbers have increased across the prison system,” she added.

Brady of the IPRT said other answers to overcrowding in the short-term, without relying on temporary release, could include prisoners held on remand – of which there were around 900 last week.

“Does everybody who is currently in pre-trial detention need to be in there?,” Brady said.

“Rather than just looking at temporary release, as an exit – we need to think about the entrance. We need to think about the entry to prison and front load our resources into looking at that. I think that would help alleviate pressure on the prison system.”

Clarification: An earlier version of this article used the term parole twice instead of temporary release. Parole and temporary release are different categories of release from detention in Ireland. In 2022, 28 applications for parole (early release from a prison sentence under certain conditions) were made and just one person was released. See more here and here