The discrepancy arises simply because the sums are being done differently by the Irish Prison Service and the Inspector of Prisons as they are using different figures for the numbers each prison can hold. The Irish Prison Service refers to bed capacity, that means simply the number of available beds or bunk spaces in any prison. So, if you had a cell with one bed in it that was designed and built for one prisoner and you put in a second bed, you have immediately doubled that capacity. The Inspector of Prisons however, has said that each prison should only hold a particular number of prisoners in order for it to operate at a safe level of occupancy. He might say, for example, that the cell holding two or three should hold only one. So, for example, he has said Cork prison should hold 146 prisoners at most, but the Irish Prison Service figures say it can hold 272. The Inspector of Prisons thinks Cork is not capable of safely holding more than 146. The figures the Inspector uses are the ones to go on as he has arrived at them by analysing each individual prison and examined international human rights standards such as those created by the Council of Europe, regarding, for example, what is the minimum permissible amount of space each prisoner should have, taking into account also the conditions within the prison. It must be borne in mind too that many of our prisoners and almost all prisoners in Cork prison are slopping out that means using a receptacle such as a bucket or a pot for human waste.
On either calculation the prison overcrowding figures are worrying
The most up to date figures we have relate to June 20 of this year. Cork prison is operating at 209% of what the Inspector of Prisons says it should hold. The Dóchas Centre for women in Dublin is running at 152%. Limerick male is at 158% and female at 146%. This cannot continue.
There are no easy or quick solutions here. We need to divert those who do not need to go to prison away from prison, we need to re-examine our sentencing policies and we need to think carefully about what should be done with those who are addicted to drugs or who are mentally ill and who end up in our prison system. I was pleased to see that the Review Group set up to examine the plans for the new prison at Thornton Hall called for a strategic review of prison policy. This is essential to make sure we’re making the best use of our resources and to get some handle on prison numbers. While we are doing that we need to develop proper data and statistics on the Irish prison population. We need to know exactly what is causing this significant increase in the prison population. When we are planning for the future of prisons we need to project what the prison population will be like on the basis of what the effect of planned policies to reduce the prison population would be; it is possible to control the prison population and countries all round the world are starting to attempt to do so now. In the interim the proposal for early release to community service for some prisoners is sensible and necessary.