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Doubling up in cells is an ineffective and short-term response to overcrowding

3rd May 2019

The Irish Examiner reported yesterday evening (02.05.2019) on the Irish Prison Service’s proposed response to the resurgence of overcrowding in Irish prisons.

The article reports that an audit of Irish prisons has identified cells that are “capable of holding two prisoners that are only occupied by one”, and that the proposed recategorisation of these cells would add 100 extra prison spaces across the prison estate.

Responding to the proposals to double-up capacity in prison cells, Irish Penal Reform Trust Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide stated today:

“The recategorisation of larger single cells as double cells is a worrying response to ongoing overcrowding, and suggests a reversal on the real progress achieved in recent years. Overcrowding should be addressed by a safe and planned reduction of the prison population, rather than the expansion of prison spaces. Increasing prison spaces will only exacerbate the existing strain on prison resources, staffing and access to services, such as education.

“Single-cell accommodation promotes safer prisons for staff and for prisoners. It reduces tensions, incidents of violence, and in particular sexual violence. Insofar as possible, prisoners in closed prisons who request single-cell accommodation should be given access to it.”

Instead, more effective longer-term responses to prison overcrowding must be implemented, Ms Ní Chinnéide continued:

“A series of policy recommendations from two cross-party Oireachtas committees and the cross-agency Strategic Review on Penal Policy offer a clear roadmap for what needs to be done. We need to see increased use of community service as a real alternative to prison sentences of less than 12 months, as set out in law. For those in prison serving longer sentences, there should be increased access to structured early release programmes, for example the Community Return Scheme.

“Ireland has been at this point before and there was broad consensus that we cannot build our way out of prison crowding. It is critical now that policy commitments to invest in alternatives to prison are implemented and not reversed, so that we don’t see a return to a crowded, dangerous prison system where any possibility of rehabilitation is limited.”

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. IPRT ‘Progress in the Penal System’: Relevant standards

Standard 9: Single-cell accommodation https://pips.iprt.ie/progress-in-the-penal-system-pips/part-2-measuring-progress-against-the-standards/b-prison-conditions/9-single-cell-accommodation/

Standard 2: Imprisonment as a last resort https://pips.iprt.ie/progress-in-the-penal-system-pips/part-2-measuring-progress-against-the-standards/a-an-effective-and-humane-penal-system/2-imprisonment-as-a-last-resort/

2. Information on cell occupancy

The most recent available census of cell occupancy in Irish prisons shows that 51% of prisoners in custody (2,013 of a total pop. of 3,985) were accommodated in single cells https://www.irishprisons.ie/information-centre/statistics-information/census-reports/

3. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) | www.iprt.ie 

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.

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