Prison overcrowding eases despite rise in numbers jailed
Fall in number of recorded crimes trickles down to prison system
Mountjoy Prison. The falling average daily prison population follows a decade to 2008 in which the prison population rose to crisis levels
Prison overcrowding eased during 2014 despite an increase in the number of people being sent to jail by the courts.
For the first time since overcrowding in the State’s prisons reached acute levels as reported crime soared during the boom years, the numbers in jail on any given day have consistently been below 4,000 last year.
The Irish Prison Service has put in place more progressive programmes of structured temporary release, as well as early release for those who prove model prisoners by engaging with rehabilitation services and demonstrating a low risk of reoffending.
However, the numbers being freed under those schemes account for only a fraction of the decline in the average daily prison population.
In 2012, for example, there were regularly more than 4,500 prisoners in the State’s jails, with a further 830 on various forms of temporary release.
However in 2014, the average daily prison population has regularly been under 4,000 and in recent months has been below 3,800, with about 750 on various forms of release.
As the year progressed, the decline in the average daily prison population continually gathered pace.
In the first half of 2014, for example, the average daily prison population was marginally above or below 4,000.
The numbers being sent to prison declined marginally in 2012 and in 2013 decreased further by about 8 per cent, to 15,735 committals.
The latest data for 2014 reveals committals have increased again, with 15,049 recorded in the first 11 months of the year.
That compares to 14,857 committals to prisons in the Republic from January to November in 2013 and 16,060 in the same period of 2012.
However, the number of people being sent to jail is only one factor influencing the average daily prison population.
Another major factor is the average sentences people are committed for.
A high number of committals but for shorter periods can result in a churning of prisoners being jailed and released, but with the average prison population falling.
Similarly, in periods when low numbers of committals are made but on longer sentences, the prison population can increase.
However, since 2008, rates of recorded crime have fallen, a trend that has now trickled down to the prison system.
Some Garda sources believe many crime categories have fallen because consumption of alcohol and illegal drugs has declined in line with falling disposable income.
Others believe a reduction in Garda numbers has meant more crime going undetected.