Irish Penal Reform Trust

IPRT gravely concerned about failure to address inhumane conditions in Cork Prison

10th November 2011


The Irish Penal Reform Trust, Ireland’s leading penal reform campaign group, has today expressed grave concern at the failure to address the lack of in-cell sanitation in Cork Prison, which consistently runs at 200% of its design capacity, while the organization acknowledged as significant the Minister for Justice’s commitment to providing in-cell sanitation in the B and C wings of Mountjoy Prison in 2012. Details of prison building projects in 2012 emerged following the publication today (10th November, 2011) of the Medium Term Exchequer Framework 2012-2016.

Speaking in response to the capital spend announcements, IPRT Executive Director, Liam Herrick said:

IPRT is gravely concerned at the ongoing failure to address conditions in Cork Prison. While the pledge to extend in-cell sanitation in Mountjoy’s B-wing is positive, there has been no action at all to address the chronic situation in Cork Prison, where more than 270 men in shared cells have to slop out. The urgency of the situation in Cork Prison was firmly stated by the Thornton Hall Review Group in its recent report, in which they acknowledged that cork prison should  be ”closed on the earliest possible occasion.IPRT wholly agreed with the Review Group that “doing nothing” is not an option, but the Government’s approach in Budget 2012 seems to be precisely to “do nothing” in relation to Cork Prison.

He added:

As IPRT made clear to the Thornton Hall Review Group, the first priority must be to bring the prison population down by exhausting all measures available, and to improve existing conditions before building expensive new prisons. In that regards, the commitment to improving conditions at Mountjoy within the limited resources available is positive and long overdue. However, we need assurance from the Government that prisoner numbers will be reduced, ideally to 2005 levels when there were 3,315 in custody; that conditions in Cork Prison will be addressed with urgency; and that it will meet its commitment to end the imprisonment of children in St Patrick’s Institution.

IPRT strongly believes that the combination of overcrowding and slopping out leaves the Irish state open to future legal action by prisoners, as has also been observed by the Inspector of Prisons and the Thornton Hall Review Group. The failure to address the slopping out issue in Scotland led to a successful legal challenge which has forced the Scottish authorities to set aside over £60m for compensation payments to affected prisoners. Any prison building programme should address substandard prison conditions, and should not be used to expand the number of prison places.

On this announcement, IPRT is calling on Government to:

  1. Clarify its plans to end imprisonment of children in St Patrick’s Institution: Government should make a clear statement on the time frame for meeting its commitment in the Programme for Government to bringing an end to the imprisonment of children in St Patrick’s Institution, whether by proceeding with the National Children Detention Facility at Oberstown, Lusk or through the transfer of 16 and 17 year old boys to the existing facilities.
  2. Set Safe Custody Limits: The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence should exercise his authority under the prison rules to set safe custody limits for each prison in line with health and safety standards for prisoners and staff and with the recommendations of the Inspector of Prisons.
  3. Reform of Parole and Temporary Release processes: IPRT has previously recommended incentivised early release as a way to reduce prison numbers in a safe and structured manner, and welcomes the pilot project which commenced in October 2011.  Reform of parole and temporary release can have an immediate effect in terms of relieving current demand, but will also have a longer impact by creating a more incentivised prison system for longer-term prisoners.
  4. Increase use of Open Prisons: There is great potential to reduce costs in prison system through more strategic use of open prisons and incentivised lower security regimes for low risk prisoners.
  5. Invest in Rehabilitation: The levels of investment in prison health and drug treatment over recent years must be maintained, and greater targeted investment made in reintegration support and resettlement.

Lower recidivism rates and fewer people going to prison would demonstrate that Ireland’s prison system and our wider social policies were effective and creating a safer society for all. Increasing the size of and numbers in our prisons does not - and will not - reduce levels of crime. It merely serves to increase prisoner numbers, which Ireland simply cannot afford. Instead, building smaller prisons within the community, with emphasis on alternatives to custody and prison as a last resort, while investing in early intervention and prevention measures, will be of far greater benefit to society.

For all media enquiries, or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Campaigns & Communications Officer, Irish Penal Reform Trust: T: + 353 1 874 1400;E:


1. Prison numbers (figures do not include those out on temporary release):

  • 6 Feb, 2009         3,698
  • 6 Dec 2009           3,952
  • 1 Feb, 2010         4,132
  • 30 Nov, 2010      4,440
  • 12 April, 2011     4,587
  • 5 Oct, 2011          4,257

2. Prison Occupancy

Occupancy rate of Irish prisons on 22 June 2011, based on design capacity (as identified by Inspector of Prisons) and on figures given in a Dáil Question, 23 June 2011:

  • Arbour Hill  116%
  • Castlerea  124%
  • Cloverhill  102%
  • Cork  209%
  • Dóchas Centre  152%
  • Limerick Male  158%
  • Limerick Female  146%
  • Loughan House  71%
  • Midlands  124%
  • Shelton Abbey  90%
  • St Patrick’s Institution  93%
  • Training Unit  124%

Note: Mountjoy Prison is not included here as the capacity is reduced whilst renovation works are underway. However, crowding at that prison has been running at over 125% of its design capacity of 540, with 680-700 prisoners consistently held there, rising to 720 on occasion.

3. Slopping out

4. Violence in Irish prisons

There were 1,014 incidents of violence in 2010 (2.5 per day for a population of 4,300) which was a 25% increase on 814 (2 per day for a population of 3,800) in 2009, which itself was an increase from 759 incidences in 2008 (2 per day for a population of 3,500). (Sources: Irish Prison Service Annual Reports for each year.)

5. IPRT on Thornton Hall

IPRT has been opposed to the building of a large mixed-security prison on the Thornton Hall site from the outset; we have consistently raised our objections to the project on the basis of size, location, security-levels, and plans to co-locate facilities for young offenders, women offenders, those detained under immigration law, and the Central Mental Hospital (as was originally proposed.)

In July 2008, IPRT made a submission on the proposed prison project to the Oireachtas Justice Committee, and published a position paper: IPRT Position Paper 1: Thornton Hall.

In May 2011, IPRT made a written submission to the Review Group on Thornton Hall. In June 2011, IPRT met with the Review Group to discuss our submission:IPRT Submission to Thornton Hall Review Group.

The Report of Thornton Hall Project Review Group was published by the Minister for Justice on 28th July 2011. The report is available here.

6. 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.

November 2011
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