Nearly 14,000 people jailed last year
Close to 14,000 people were sent to jail last year but the prison population would appear to have stabilised, the Irish Prison Service’s annual report suggests.
There were 17,318 committals to prison last year, an increase of 0.8 per cent on the 2010 total of 17,179. Many of these were repeat offenders. The actual number of those sent to prison increased by 1.4 per cent from 13,758 in 2010 to 13,952 last year.
However, the small increase comes after spikes of 11.4 per cent between 2008 and 2009 and 13.8 per cent between 2009 and 2010. The increase in the prison population has been attributed to a larger number of non-payment of fines and longer sentences for those convicted of serious crimes such as murder or drug smuggling.
There was another increase last year when the number of committals to prison as a consequence of unpaid fines rising from 6,683 in 2010 to 7,514 in 2011.
The overwhelming majority (86.4 per cent) of those committed to prison were male and just 13.6 per cent were female, but the number of women incarcerated grew by 201 from 1,701 in 2010 to 1,902 last year.
Irish Penal Reform Trust executive director Liam Herrick described the rise in the number of women going to jail as “worrying” and noted that a quarter of them were serving short sentences.
“The increase in women being committed to prison for short sentences demands a focussed response from both the Prison Service and Probation Service. Both Services have acknowledged that specific alternatives to prison for low-level female offenders are needed,” he said.
The cost per prison cell decreased by more than €5,000 a year from €70,513 in 2010 to €65,359 last year.
The decline is as a result of a €3.2 million decrease in the overall prison budget coupled with an increase in bed capacity from 4,203 to 4,486.
A snapshot of the prison population taken at the end of November totalled 4,313 inmates with 3,697 serving sentences, 609 were on remand awaiting trial and seven were immigration detainees. There were also 20 fine prisoners. That number rose to more than 4,500 last month, the Penal Reform Trust said.
The Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said the figures signalled a “levelling off in numbers”.
The report says “significant progress” has been made in implementing the Public Service Agreement in the Prison Service during 2011 which aims to save €21 million in payroll costs over the period by 2014. The number working in the prison service has reduced by 250 since 2010.
The report says good progress was made last year in dealing with overcrowded in Mountjoy Prison C Wing with the construction of 38 new cells in the basement area of the prison and all cells have toilets and wash hand basin in it.
A major extension to Midlands Prison with an additional 179 cells has also commenced.
Mr Shatter said 300 new places should be made available in the Midlands Prison b the end of the year and he had received approval for the development of a new prison in Cork on the site of the current car park and adjacent green-field site.