Prison overcrowding: 120 prisoners without beds as system reaches full capacity

Irish Penal Reform Trust calls for action as prison population ‘growing at worrying rate’

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has said it is gravely concerned at new figures which show the prison system has reached full capacity, with a number of prisons significantly overcrowded.

There are currently 4,416 prisoners in custody with only a 4,411 bed capacity across the system, according to figures from the Irish Prison Service (IPS).

Due to overcrowding, the IPS said, there are currently 120 prisoners who have to sleep on mattresses due to the lack of beds.

While the system had reached 100 per capacity, overcrowding in some prisons is even worse, with Limerick’s female prison currently at 164 per cent capacity.


Figures show the male prison in Limerick was at 119 per cent capacity, while Mountjoy male prison in Dublin was 10 per cent over capacity and the female prison was at 103 per cent capacity.

Molly Joyce, acting IPRT executive director, said the figures were a “watershed moment” for the prison system.

“We now have a prison population that is growing at a worrying rate and without strong action from Government the problems caused by this rapid rate of increase will continue,” she said.

Ms Joyce said if the problem continued to get worse there is a risk rehabilitative services would not be able to be delivered effectively to prisoners, which undermined the main purpose of prison.

There continues to be an “over-reliance” on sending people to prison for less serious offences, she said.

In a statement, the IPS said it had “no control” over the numbers in custody at any given time, which was a result of decisions in the courts.

New accommodation in Limerick Prison would provide an extra 90 beds for men and 22 beds for women, it said.

The accommodation for male prisons was partially open while it was expected the extra beds for female prisoners would be ready in the next two months.

The number of people in custody at any point was subject to regular “peaks and troughs”, the statement said.

The statement said the “need to ensure the continued availability of modern prison facilities with adequate capacity will continue to be central to the work” of the prison service.

Ms Joyce said numbers in prisons could be reduced in the short term by the “careful and structured use of temporary and early release measures”.

The IPRT director said the organisation welcomed Government commitments to “move away from practices that rely heavily on imprisonment”, but added that was of no help to people “sitting in overcrowded prisons” this week.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times