Cloverhill prisoners slept on mattresses on floor due to overcrowding
Eight of the inmates had no prison-cell bed in April, 21 in May and 15 in June
Cloverhill and Wheatfield prisons, Clondalkin, Dublin. The Minister for Justice says prison governors must by law accept all prisoners into their custody who have been committed by the courts. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins
Dozens of prisoners were forced to sleep on mattresses on the floor of Cloverhill Prison earlier this year because of increases in committals by the courts.
There were no prison-cell beds for eight inmates in April, 21 in May and 15 in June, it has emerged.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said prison governors were required by law to accept all prisoners into their custody who have been committed to prison by the courts.
“As Cloverhill Prison is the primary remand prison for the Leinster area, it has recently been affected more significantly in terms of the increased number of committals in the past year,” he said, adding that the prison service had no control over the numbers committed to custody at any given time.
However, he told Independents4Change TD Clare Daly that as of July 17th, “there were 396 prisoners in custody in Cloverhill Prison with a bed capacity of 431, equating to an occupancy rate of 92 per cent with no prisoners sleeping on mattresses on the floor”.
Mr Flanagan said that for much of the period between April and June this year “a number of cells in the prison were out of commission for essential renovation and refurbishment” but these cells were now back in commission.
It emerged in June that the State’s prison population had risen for the first time in seven years despite recent legislation curtailing the jailing of fine defaulters.
A record number of 4,600 prisoners were incarcerated in 2011 but had been falling since then until this year when they started to increase again, with 3,981 people imprisoned in June compared to 3,710 on the same date in 2017. In June, six of the State’s 11 prisons were above capacity.
Ms Daly had asked about prison numbers in Cloverhill in Clondalkin, Dublin, and “the way in which prisoners sleeping on the floor of Cloverhill Prison during April, May and June 2018 are categorised as homeless”.
But the Minister told the Dublin Fingal TD: “The prison service does not categorise prisoners sleeping on mattresses as homeless.”
Ms Daly had also asked what was being done “to divert low-level criminals away from the penal system towards more appropriate intervention services”.
Mr Flanagan said despite the increase this year in the prison population, Ireland still had a “relatively low rate of imprisonment by international standards”.
The most recent published statistics showed the State’s imprisonment rate at 78.1 per 100,000 of population. The equivalent European average is 129.9.
Mr Flanagan also said his officials were drafting a strategy recommended by the Department’s penal policy review group “to reduce prisoner numbers to a safe level subject to the need to ensure proper protection of the public”. The Minister said he expected the strategy to be finalised this year.
He added that progress had been made on a number of other recommendations the group had made including the pursuit of alternatives to custody and the use of structured temporary release programmes.