Writing in The Irish Times today, Conor Lally reports that the number of prison committals fell in 2012, the first time there has been a decrease since 2007.
The article reports that the numbers on temporary release also decreased in 2012, and – in common with international trends – these decreases have taken place at the same time as a decline across all categories of recorded crimes, apart from burglary.
The reduction in prison committals is ascribed to the impact of the new community-return scheme, and legislation enacted in October 2011 whereby judges must consider community service orders for offences which would ordinarily receive custodial sentences of up to 12 months.
Prison numbers remain too high
While IPRT welcomes the reported decrease in overall committals in 2012, the number of prisoners in Ireland remains too high. Moreover, the number of individuals committed to prison in 2012 was approximately the same as in 2011 (around 13,950 people for each of the years).
The position that Irish prison numbers remain too high was echoed by the Justice Committee in their Report on Penal Reform, published 27th March 2013, which recommends that the Irish prison population be reduced by a third over 10 years - underlining that this can be achieved without any risk to public safety.
In August 2012, on publication of the Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2011, IPRT welcomed the general levelling off in numbers, which saw an increase of 0.8% in committals in contrast with increases of 11-13% in each of the previous years. However, IPRT also noted that in 2011, while there had been a decrease of 0.1% among male committals, there had been an increase of 12% among female committals.
While numbers have been reduced, particularly in Cork and Mountjoy prisons, overcrowding persists in many prisons. Slopping out continues in Cork Prison, and areas of Portlaoise, Limerick and Mountjoy prisons, although IPRT acknowledges that works and plans are underway to eliminate slopping out within 3 years. It has long been IPRT's opinion that the combination of overcrowded conditions and a lack of in cell sanitation increases the likelihood of a successful legal challenge against the State, and that the State should consider all possible ways of eliminating the practice with urgency.
In The Irish Times article, the IPS is cited as saying the prison population in 2012 was 4,100 “for most of the year”. However, the lowest figure IPRT observed during 2012 was 4,228 and the prison population was 4,521 in July 2012. The prison population passed 4,000 for the first time in Irish history in October 2009, and was as high as 4,587 in April 2011.
The prison population was 4,306 on 7th March 2013.