Mountjoy Prison overcrowding criticised in report

 

MOUNTJOY PRISON has become so overcrowded it is now holding 25 per cent more inmates than the Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly has said is safe for staff and inmates.

The north Dublin prison is holding 674 inmates despite Judge Reilly saying if the jail was to remain part of the prison system and operate in safety the numbers should not exceed 540.

Judge Reilly made his recommendation in his annual report on Mountjoy Prison last September.

The report was very critical of conditions at the prison, particularly the raised tensions, increased violence and pressure on staff and resources that resulted from overcrowding.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said at the time that numbers at the jail would “in so far as is practicable” be kept below 600.

The latest figures from the Department of Justice reveal overcrowding at the prison is now far in excess of the safe level set down by Judge Reilly.

Last Thursday there were 674 inmates at the jail, some 74 more than Mr Ahern’s commitment and 134, or 25 per cent, more than the maximum number set down by Judge Reilly.

The latest data shows the bed capacity at the jail on the North Circular Road is 590, meaning there is currently no bed space for 84 of the jail’s 674 inmates.

Sources in Mountjoy have told The Irish Timesthat many inmates are sleeping on benches in large communal cells, in offices and the reception area at the jail and in shower areas in the basement of the prison.

“In some cases there have been so many in a cell that there is not even room for them all to lie on the floor so some prisoners have had to sleep sitting up,” said one source. Another source said there was often not enough mattresses to put on the floor for those without a bed.

The Irish Prison Service, which is led by director general Brian Purcell, said the plan to keep numbers in Mountjoy below 600 had not been possible because of the high numbers being jailed.

A prison service statement said: “The opening of the (new) block at Wheatfield Prison (Dublin) later this year is expected to give some respite in this regard.”

While the Mountjoy bed capacity was 590, the prison service had no choice but to accept into jail all persons sentenced by the courts, it said.

Of the 15 prisons in the Republic, 11 are operating above their bed capacity.

The most crowded prison is the women’s Dóchas Centre on the Mountjoy campus. It was designed to hold 85 women but there were 135 in the jail over the weekend, with five women caring for their new babies inside the prison.

The men’s prison in Mountjoy was next worst, with 674 inmates last Thursday, or 14 per cent above its bed capacity. The figure rose to 700 over the weekend,

Cloverhill Prison, west Dublin, was the third most crowded jail, holding 482 last Thursday, or 12 per cent above its bed capacity.

This was followed by: Cork Prison, 272 inmates, 10 per cent over capacity; Castlerea Prison in Co Roscommon, 387 inmates, 10 per cent over capacity; Limerick Prison (male), 312 inmates, 8 per cent above capacity.

In many jails bed capacity has been greatly inflated above design capacity by putting bunks into cells designed for one inmate.

Only four of the State’s 15 prisons were operating below full capacity last Thursday.

In Loughan House open centre, Co Cavan, there were 140 inmates, with 10 further beds free. In Shelton Abbey open centre in Co Wicklow there were 99 inmates, with one bed free. In St Patrick’s Institution for young offenders, there were 213 inmates, with four free beds.

Portlaoise Prison is running 23 per cent below capacity, with 265 inmates for 359 beds. Inmates at the jail include leading gangland figures and different dissident republican groupings. These must be segregated meaning the prison can never run close to full capacity.