The latest figures, released by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, relating to last Tuesday, show 252 inmates were incarcerated 23 hours a day — roughly 6% of the prison population on that date. High rates of prisoners on 23 hour lock up were found in St Patrick’s Institution for Young Offenders which accommodates 16 to 21-year- olds. Furthermore, Mountjoy, Wheatfield, Castlerea and Cork prisons also had high numbers of prisoners locked up for protection purposes.
In response to a parliamentary question by Labour’s Cork South Central TD Ciarán Lynch, Mr Ahern said protection prisoners are those considered to be under threat, or "at risk", due to gangland feuding, drug debts, because they gave evidence in a court case or because of the nature of their offence.
Liam Herrick of the Irish Penal Reform Trust said: "The figures, while shocking, are not surprising as the Inspector of Prisons has consistently reported that up to 25% of the juvenile population in St Patrick’s Institution is on protection for fear of their own safety.
"In particular, the use of single separation of children for reasons of protection, which can involve up to 23-hours’ lock up with limited access to education, physical activity, and association, is of very serious concern."
He said the Whitaker Report of 1985 assessed the conditions of detention at St Patrick’s generally as potentially leading to "the psychological deterioration of the young offenders".
Mr Herrick said the further impact of 23-hour lock up on the development of the boys and young men detained there was "an extremely serious issue".