Cost of keeping prisoner in Portlaoise is €270,000 per year


THE COST of keeping an offender at the country's most secure jail in Portlaoise costs almost €270,000 per year, a new report shows.

The Irish Prison Service annual report shows that the average cost of an inmate per year is about €97,700. However, Portlaoise is easily the most expensive, followed by Shelton Abbey (€107,800 a year) and St Patrick's Institution (€106,800). The least expensive is Loughan House (€82,200), a low-security facility in Co Cavan.

The report also shows that almost a third of the 9,711 people sent to jail last year were foreign nationals.

Among these non-Irish nationals were UK nationals (2 per cent), other EU citizens (8 per cent), other Europeans (6 per cent) and African nationals (6 per cent).

The main reasons for the higher cost at Portlaoise are the staffing levels and higher security.

Rising wage bills for prison officers as a result of the national pay agreement have also increased prison costs significantly in recent years.

The report also shows a large number of mobile phones were seized following the introduction of new laws which made it an offence for prisoners to have the devices behind bars.

By the end of 2007, some 2,224 mobile phones had been seized in prisons across the State.

In addition, prison authorities say they plan to introduce mobile phone jamming technology to all prisons if a pilot project in the midlands proves to be successful.

On average last year there were more than 3,000 offenders in prison each day, a 4 per cent increase over 2006. The vast majority of prisoners (88 per cent) were male.

The number of people serving a life sentence increased by 30 per cent, from 18 in 2006 to 22 in 2007.

There was also a 34 per cent increase in committals for drug offences, up from 395 in 2006 to 529 last year. Overall, drugs account for 8 per cent of committals.

Sentenced committals for road traffic offences also rose by 8 per cent, up from 1,452 in 2006 to 1,565 last year.

While the Irish Prison Service hailed the progress made in making prisons more secure, Fine Gael yesterday said many of the figures pointed to a dysfunctional system in need of reform.

Fine Gael's justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan said it was a scandal that the country was "awash" with drugs. "Heroin and cocaine are as accessible as alcohol at present but the statistics clearly illustrate that those responsible for drug pushing are not being put away.

"The taxpayer may legitimately ask why prison numbers increased by 4 per cent in 2007 despite the fact that the most serious crimes remain unsolved. Of the 130 gangland murders that have taken place since 1998 only 14 convictions have been secured to date."

The prison service, meanwhile, says it is planning to introduce new measures to clamp down on contraband in prisons next year.

These include a new drug detection dog unit, security screening for all personnel entering closed prisons, including walk-through metal detectors and X-ray scanners, as well as new remand segregation units for serious drug and criminal gang members.