Rise in inmates puts jails under pressure

The number of people in prison is increasing sharply, placing pressure on the bulk of jails with many near or above operating capacity.

Figures demonstrate that a number of factors are driving the rise, including: More people being remanded in custody awaiting trial; a sharp fall in temporary releases; an increase in numbers being sentenced; and more longer sentences being handed down.

Prison bosses plan to reduce overcrowding in the institutions most affected — a plan forming part of their unpublished strategy over the next three years.

Irish Prison Service figures show a sharp rise in prison numbers over the last two years, from 3,690 on January 31, 2017, to 3,798 on the same date in 2018, and to 3,983 on January 31, 2019.

The number of people being committed from the courts jumped from 721 during January 2018 to 864 during January 2019.

  • The figures show:

  • Remand prisoner numbers have risen by two thirds, from 475 in January 2016 to 714 in January 2019;
  • Prisoners given temporary release have fallen by 56% in the same period, from 394 (9% of the prison population) to 171 (4%);
  • Sentenced prisoners have risen from 3,019 in January 2018 to 3,171 in January 2019;
  • Life-sentence inmates have increased from 339 in 2017 to 348 in 2018 and to 357 in 2019;
  • The number of prisoners serving more than five years has risen from 879 in 2017 to 892 in 2018 and to 915 in 2019

The figures show a rise in the number of people sentenced for homicide offences in the last two years, from 405 in January 2017 to 425 last January.

Prison sources have highlighted the significant increase in gangland prosecutions taken by gardaí since the outbreak of the Kinahan-Hutch feud.

This has involved a number of convictions for murder and conspiracy to murder as well as drug and firearm convictions, with charges for the same offences resulting in more remand-in-custody orders.

“The increase in prison population is partly due to the Garda successes, both in relation to convictions and the sentences imposed and those being charged and remanded in custody until their trial is heard,” said one prison source.

In addition to increases in homicide offences (which can carry long sentences, including mandatory life for murder) there has been a rise in the last two years in other crimes which can carry lengthy sentences: Sexual offences (from 384 to 399); burglaries (309 to 332), and drugs crimes (323 to 379).

Since the end of January 2019, prison numbers have continued to rise and stood at 4,043 on April 16.

Numbers have increased in the bulk of closed prisons, with pressure continuing to be the greatest in the two female prisons. Numbers in Dochas have jumped from 101 in January 2017 to 134 in January 2019, even though it has beds for just 105 women.

In Limerick women’s prison, the overcrowding is even worse, after numbers rose from 30 to 40, even though there are only beds for 28 women.

The most recent data, from April 16, shows further rises in almost all closed prisons. The country’s largest prison, Midlands, now has 860 inmates, though it has bed capacity of 845.

Limerick men’s prison has 222 prisoners (capacity 210), while Arbour Hill (which, along with a wing of Midlands, holds sex offenders) is at capacity.

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