• Print
  • Email author
  • Bookmark and Share


13th May 2010

Yes, there are solutions to reduce the prisoner population

The Irish Penal Reform Trust, Ireland’s leading independent voice on penal policy, today welcomed Governor Lonergan’s statement that we need to find solutions to reduce the prison population (The Irish Times, 13th May 2010). Since 1994, IPRT has consistently advocated for penal moderation as the solution to ever-increasing social and economic costs of imprisonment. Yet, to date, government has persisted with penal expansionism as its response to chronic overcrowding and soaring numbers in Irish prisons.

IPRT is steadfastly opposed to any increase in prison spaces or prison numbers. Expanding (or capping or reducing) the prison population is a political decision, and IPRT agrees with Governor Lonergan that Thornton Hall is part of the government’s failed policy of expansion.

IPRT proposes the following concrete steps that should be taken with urgency to reduce the numbers of prisoners, freeing up resources to make our prisons humane and more effective:

  • We need a thorough analysis of current practices in relation to immigration detainees, women offenders, and those imprisoned for traffic offences.
  • We need to analyse whether the presumptive 10 year sentence for drug offences is really impacting on organised crime or if it is filling prisons with low-level actors in the drug trade.
  • We need investment in crime prevention strategies and investment in supporting communities at risk of crime.
  • We need increased use of Community Service Orders for minor offences.
  • We need speedy implementation of the solutions contained in the Fines Bill 2009.
  • We need better resourced and better coordinated rehabilitation services and support, both in prison and on release in the community, to tackle high rates of recidivism in Ireland.

Minister Ahern regularly reports as a mark of progress that over 1,720 prison spaces have been added to the prison estate since 1997. In that time, prison numbers have soared from 2,422 (daily average) in 1997 to 4,150 and higher in 2010, and prison numbers are projected to reach 5,000 by the end of 2010. More illustrative is that the rate of imprisonment has risen from 60 per 100,000 in 1997 to 94 per 100,000 in 2010, an increase of over 50%.

We need to hear a concrete plan from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that does not rely on the white-elephant solution of Thornton Hall, and we need to hear it with urgency.

For all media enquiries, or to arrange an interview with IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick, please contact:

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Campaigns & Communications Officer

T: + 353 1 874 1400 E: communications@iprt.ie


  1. IPRT is calling on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to act now and take responsibility for the issues of overcrowding and the consequent impact on prison regimes identified by Governor McMahon, Governor Lonergan, Mountjoy Prisons Visiting Committee, European Committee on the Prevention of Torture (CPT), and many others.
  2. The Irish prisoner population reached an all-time high of 4,258 persons in custody on March 26th, 2010 (reported in the Sunday Independent, 9th May 2010).
  3. Numbers are projected to reach 5,000 by end 2010, according to Gov Lonergan in the Irish Times, 13th May 2010. This would represent an increase of 25% since numbers first passed 4,000 in October 2009.
  4. Minister Ahern issued a breakdown of occupied cell accommodation per prison for 14th April 2010.
  5. On Tues 25th May 2010, IPRT will launch a new report on the reintegration of ex-offenders in Ireland. “...It’s like stepping on a landmine”: the Reintegration of Prisoners in Ireland is a comprehensive review of services and support for prisoners returning to the community; it makes 14 detailed recommendations for the successful rehabilitation of prisoners, which will reduce recidivism and ultimately lead to a safer society.
  6. The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort.
viewed here