Annual cost of keeping each prisoner in jail falls to €77,222


THE AVERAGE cost of keeping prisoners in jail has dropped significantly because the prison population has increased at a time when staff numbers and pay have fallen.

The cost of keeping an inmate last year was €77,222 per person, a fall of 17 per cent on 2008 when the figure was €92,717.

However, in the State’s maximum security jail, Portlaoise Prison, the cost per inmate fell last year by 51 per cent, down to €75,892 from €155,306.

The Irish Prison Service determines the annual cost per inmate by calculating the amount spent on a prison that year and dividing it by the number of inmates in that jail on December 31st.

In Portlaoise last year, 200 new prison spaces opened. However, because of the public sector recruitment moratorium, no new prison officers were hired. The pay bill for existing staff also fell because of public sector pay cuts.

Those factors combined to greatly reduce the average cost per prisoner in Portlaoise.

There were a further 116 spaces opened at Castlerea Prison, Co Roscommon, last year. No new staff were hired there, so the average cost per prisoner also fell very significantly at the prison.

Overall, money spent on running the prison system fell by 5 per cent. This was largely due to a saving of €15.5 million in salaries after the public sector pay cuts and a reduction in staff numbers due to the retirement of officers who were not replaced.

The reduction in the cost per inmate in the Republic’s open centres – at Shelton Abbey, Co Wicklow, and Loughan House, Co Cavan – was 16 per cent; €60,150 in 2009 as against €50,521 in 2008. At the State’s closed prisons – jails that are not open centres but not maximum security – the cost per inmate fell by 13 per cent, from €90,837 to €79,308.

Most of the Republic’s 15 jails, including Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison, are closed prisons.

When the 51 per cent fall in cost per inmate at Portlaoise Prison is factored in, the average cost per inmate across all 15 jails was down 17 per cent last year to €92,717.

The figures were revealed in response to a Dáil question to Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern. Mr Ahern said he was hopeful the judiciary would impose non-custodial sentences more often as an alternative to prison.

Commenting on reports in The Irish Timeson Monday that the prison population had exceeded 5,000 for the first time, with almost 1,000 inmates on early release because jails were overcrowded, Mr Ahern said: “There are less and less spaces and we can’t build them quick enough, that’s the reality.”

Garda numbers were now at a record high of 14,500 and there were also more judges and courts than ever.

This had led to a situation where people were being brought before the courts, convicted and imprisoned at a higher rate than ever before. Prison terms were also becoming longer, which was taking up a lot of beds.

While the long term plan was to build a new 2,200-berth jail at Thornton Hall in north Co Dublin, 200 new spaces were about to open in Dublin’s Wheatfield jail.

A further 300 spaces would be added to the prison area in Portlaoise, Co Laois, where the Midlands Prison and Portlaoise Prison are situated.