Irish Penal Reform Trust

Major report finds pockets of progress but ongoing prison overcrowding risks undermining Ireland’s penal system

26th May 2023

  • Report highlights worrying trends in the rising numbers of people in prison
  • 33% of prisoners on waiting lists to access mental health supports
  • People on mattresses a regular feature across prison estate
  • Particular concerns about women in the penal system

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) today launched the annual ‘Progress in the Penal System’ (PIPS) report for 2022, the sixth such report assessing Ireland’s penal system across standards set in 2017. IPRT has measured the penal system against international human rights standards and best practice, covering areas such as prison conditions, regimes, accountability, and reintegration.

The report has identified rising numbers of people in prison as a move away from progress achieved over the past few years. This increasing prison population is contrary to clear commitments in the Government’s Review of Policy Options for Prison and Penal Reform 2022-2024 to look at measures which aim to reduce reoffending, support desistance from offending, avoid overcrowding in prisons and reduce reliance on custodial sentences. 

IPRT report findings show that, while there have been some pockets of progress in 2022, such progress, including in the areas of mental health and overcrowding, is at risk of reversal due to a lack of policy implementation.

Speaking today at the launch of the PIPS 2022 Report, Acting Executive Director of IPRT, Molly Joyce, said:

There has been some significant progress around our approach to mental health in the criminal justice system in 2022, including through the work of the High Level Task Force to consider the mental health and addiction challenges of those who come into contact with the criminal justice sector and the opening of a new Central Mental Hospital that provides modern forensic mental facilities to patients.”

“For too long prison has been the default option for people who experience mental health issues or the challenges associated with addiction, and the Task Force’s focus on diverting these people from prison is accordingly very welcome. That said, mental health remains a deeply pressing issue within our prisons, with approximately 33% of prisoners on waiting lists to access psychology services at the start of 2023 and 18 people in prison on the waiting list for the Central Mental Hospital as of the end of December 2022. This situation requires urgent action by implementing the recommendations of the Task Force without further delay.”

“The report indicates significant regress on the issue of overcrowding in Irish prisons, with people sleeping on mattresses and sharing of cells becoming a regular feature across the prison estate. In particular, there was an 8% increase in the annual average number of people in prison between 2021 (3,794) and 2022 (4,095): a knock-on impact of these increasing prison numbers is the additional pressure it places on rehabilitative services.” 

Ms Joyce commented: “The increasing numbers of people in prison, and subsequent overcrowding across the prison estate in Ireland, is extremely disappointing. Concerted efforts to successfully reduce the number of people in prison as part of the COVID-19 response have now been reversed, resulting in a prison system that is on its knees.”

“It is difficult to overstate the impact of overcrowding on every aspect of prison life, from access to family contact to key rehabilitative services such as education and work/training to basic entitlements such as access to a bed. We know, for example, that in December 2022 there were 2,408 instances of prisoners sleeping on mattresses and – as of 1 December 2022 – there were 104 prisoners sleeping on mattresses on the floor. Such conditions undermine the dignity afforded to people in prison.”

Concerning increase in numbers on remand

The 2022 report further notes that there was an average of 875 people held on remand in 2022: this compares to an average of 584 people on remand in 2017.

According to Ms. Joyce, “Of particular concern is the increasing number of people being held in pre-trial detention (i.e. ‘on remand’), with this year’s report recording a 23% increase in the average number of people held on remand between 2021 and 2022 as well as an apparent increase in the length of time people are spending on remand.”

“It is important to remember that people who are ‘on remand’ are awaiting trial and have not yet been found guilty of a crime. Further information is needed to understand why the remand prison population is increasing and – more crucially – work must be done to expand the various alternatives to remand that are available. This could include, for example, expanding bail support schemes that enable a person to remain in the community while awaiting trial.”

Women more likely to have experienced abuse before detention

Women in prison in Ireland are among the most marginalised women in the state, with an estimated 85% having addiction issues and studies suggesting they are more likely than men to have experienced sexual, physical, or emotional abuse. The IPRT PIPS 2022 report further identifies that the majority of women committed to prison in Ireland are committed on a short-term basis (e.g. less than a year) for non-violent offences, with 2021 figures showing that 85% of all sentenced committals of women were for 12 months or less.

Ms Joyce stated:Not only are Ireland’s two female prisons the most consistently overcrowded in the State, but women in prison are also often detained on shorter sentences for less serious crimes. These short periods in prison leave little time for rehabilitation whilst also disproportionately impacting their families, children, and ability to reintegrate back into communities afterwards.”  

“We have further seen a significant increase in the average daily number of women in prison, from 104 women in 2002 to 173 women in 2022 (a 65% increase over the 20-year period). This persistently high daily population of women and subsequent overcrowding are cause for significant concern.”

IPRT has called on the Department of Justice, without delay, to take action to address this continued overreliance on short-sentences in the place of community-based sanctions and for a gender-sensitive approach to be adopted across all stages of the criminal justice system. 

Unpublished reports

Finally, while the PIPS 2022 report acknowledges the progress made in strengthening Ireland’s inspection and accountability mechanisms, IPRT remains concerned that a number of reports submitted by the Inspector of Prisons in regards specific issues in the Dóchas Centre remain unpublished by the Minister for Justice.

According to Ms. Joyce: “Refusal to publish these reports ties into bigger issues with accountability and transparency in our penal system, and IPRT reiterates our calls for the reports to be published without further delay.”  




Contact: Michelle Byrne, Communications Officer, at 086 043 3060 or


  • Molly Joyce, Acting Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, is available for interview, upon request.

About PIPS 

  • The ‘Progress in the Penal System 2022’ (PIPS 2022) report marks the sixth instalment of annual reporting of progress in Ireland’s prison system. First conceived in 2016, PIPS aimed to set out a clear vision for the future of the penal system in Ireland, taking as its starting point that as a small wealthy country, Ireland should work towards becoming a leading model of international best penal practice.  
  • Due to IPRT’s previous efforts to place a more in-depth focus on a smaller number of standards during the pandemic years, many of the standards assessed in PIPS 2022 have not been assessed in PIPS since 2019, with some not assessed since 2020. In 2022, the report reviews 28 of the 35 standards that have become synonymous with PIPS.  
  • Of the 28 standards assessed: four were classified as having progressed; five as having regressed; no change was registered in nine cases; while eight standards were classified as ‘mixed’, indicating that there has been progress towards the standard in some areas and regress away from it in others. A summary of all standards assessed is available at pages 14-15 of the report.

The PIPS report is available on the IPRT website here:


About IPRT

Established in 1994, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in the penal system and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort.  

IPRT is committed to respecting the rights of everyone in the penal system and to reducing imprisonment. It works towards progressive reform of the penal system based on evidence-led policies and on a commitment to combating social injustice. IPRT publishes a wide range of policy positions and research documents; it campaigns vigorously across a wide range of penal policy issues; and has established itself as the leading independent voice in public debate on the Irish penal system. | @iprt   


May 2023
April  June

Our work is supported by

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



Contact us

This website uses cookies to provide a good browsing experience

Some are necessary to help our website work properly and can't be switched off, and some are optional. Click on "Choose cookies" below for more information on the cookies being used on this website. Please note that based on your settings, not all functions of the website may be available. You can manage your preferences by visiting “Cookie preferences" at the bottom of any page.

This website uses cookies to provide a good browsing experience

Some are necessary to help our website work properly and can't be switched off, and some are optional. Please choose the cookies to allow below. Please note that based on your settings, not all functions of the website may be available. You can manage your preferences by visiting “Cookie preferences" at the bottom of any page.

Your cookie preferences have been saved.