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Irish Times: 'Number of Prison inmates exceeds 4,000 for first time'

15th October 2009

Writing in The Irish Times, Conor Lally highlights how the number of prisoners in Irish jails has passed 4,000 for the first time in the history of the State, according to new Irish Prison Services figures. This figure does not include around 500 prisoners on temporary release.

"News of the record numbers of inmates comes three weeks after the inspector of prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, presented a report on Mountjoy Prison to the Government, warning lives were being put at risk due to chronic overcrowding in the Dublin jail. Judge Reilly was so concerned he brought forward the publication of his report."

The article states that 4,009 were in the prison system, which has an official bed capacity of 3,947. However, some of these beds are in Portlaoise Prison, where 120 beds are empty due to the segregation of criminal gangs and dissidents.

It goes on to quotes IPRT's reaction thus:

The Irish Penal Reform Trust, which obtained the figures, said the imprisonment of more than 4,000 people for the first time in Ireland was a “watershed moment because the rapid rate of increase would soon be out of control”.

Trust executive director Liam Herrick said the prison service needed to set “safe custody limits” in each jail. Temporary release should be used to ensure these were not exceeded.

In the longer term, community-based sanctions – such as drug treatment and community service – needed to be developed. It was also time for the judiciary to stop jailing people for not paying fines or for very minor offences, Mr Herrick added.

In its response, the Irish Prison Service said it had to accept all committals from the courts, and could not use a “no vacancies sign”.

This article appears on the front page of the print edition of the Irish Times. The article can be accessed in full here.