Prison population in 1983 was a third of today’s

State’s jails held 1,350 inmates 30 years ago, compared with more than 4,000 in autumn 2013

Mountjoy Prison was described as being “in a state of serious dilapidation”

Mountjoy Prison was described as being “in a state of serious dilapidation”


The number of prisoners has trebled in the last 30 years. There were about 1,350 in custody in 1983, compared with more than 4,000 this autumn.

A Department of Justice memo from May 1983 noted: “Custodial accommodation is crowded and multiple occupancy of cells designed for single occupancy only, and without integral sanitation, has commenced. Portlaoise and Limerick are now used for paramilitary subversives.

“If everybody committed to custody remained in custody until sentence, with stipulated remission, duly expired, or until parole was indicated by all the relevant circumstances, there would be 1,500/1,600 in custody.”

It reported that in total there were about 1,350 people in custody in 1983 and forecast that, based on population, economic and crime trends, there might be well over 2,000 prisoners by 2000.

According to the Irish Penal Reform Trust, the prison population on October 15th of this year was 4,111.

An appendix to the 1983 Department of Justice memo warned that the whole of Mountjoy Prison “is in a state of serious dilapidation and could be totally destroyed in a few hours if there was a general riot.

“Nothing is more conducive to triggering general riots than the tensions which derive from multiple occupancy of single cells without integral sanitation and the deterioration of living conditions in already obsolete prisons which this overcrowding initiates,” it said.