3rd October 2023
In an Echo Live article, IPRT responds to the news of 10 people sleeping on mattresses on the floor in Cork Prison. Each of the 10 people on mattresses are confined to cells with two other people, both of whom have beds. IPRT raises concerns that policies are not mirroring the current reality and put forward solutions that could be achieved through Budget 2024 and beyond.
Repeatedly, IPRT has been sounding the alarm on overcrowding across the prison estate. In February of this year, we saw the combined capacity of prisons hit 100% and even though prisons are already full, this has continued to increase over the last number of months to reach 102% capacity. As these numbers continue to rise, news of 10 people sleeping on mattresses in Cork prison paints a stark picture of the extent of the issue. As we enter cold and flu season, with covid cases on the increase again, IPRT is even more concerned about the impact chronic overcrowding will have on people’s physical as well as their mental health.
Overcrowding is not inevitable. We saw welcome reductions in the use of imprisonment in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic response, but as we can see from more recent data, this has not been sustained, and we are back to business-as-usual as numbers accelerate. The Government has committed to considering enshrining the principle of ‘prison as a last resort’ in legislation. It has also committed to focusing on providing alternatives to prison, such as community-based sanctions, where appropriate. The policy position is there, but we can see by the growth in numbers of people in prison that the policy is far from the reality on the ground.
We have another opportunity in front of us to resource solutions to the undignified conditions we’re hearing about. In order to reduce overcrowding, IPRT is calling on the Government to invest in alternative solutions, including the allocation of an additional €5m to the Probation Service to support greater use of community service orders and probation supervision..
IPRT is calling for action from the Government. While the Irish Prison Service has an obligation to accept all people sent to it by the courts, imprisonment should only ever be used as a sanction of last resort. Unfortunately, there continues to be an over-reliance on short custodial sentences for people convicted of less serious offences, despite its damaging social and economic impact on individuals, families, and communities..
IPRT also calls on the minister for justice to make immediate efforts to adequately resource the proposed progressive actions the Government outlined in August 2022, to ultimately reduce the number of people sent to prison, and support a move away from responses to offending that cause unnecessary further harm to people and their families.
Read the full article in the Echo Live here.
See IPRT's Pre-Budget Submission for Budget 2024 here.