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Males make up 87.5% of prisoners
Caron McCaffrey

18 Jun 2020 / justice Print

Males make up 87.5% of prisoners

Community-based alternatives to prison need investment as an alternative to committals for less serious offences, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has said.

The campaigning body also calls for a reversal of plans to increase prison capacities.

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) annual report for 2019 was published this week and shows a significant increase in committal numbers, including a 21% increase in sentences of less than 12 months.

The Irish Prison Service is led by director general Caron McCaffrey (pictured).


Life sentences are down by 12, however, while those imprisoned for immigration breaches are up to 490 committals.

There were 8,939 committals to prison in 2019, a 10.7% (+868) increase on 2018 (8,071).

A total of 7,170 were sent to prison in 2019 compared with 6,490 in 2018, an increase of 10.5% (+680).

Of these, 87.5% were male and 12.5% were female. The average number of female offenders in custody was 170, an increase of 3% on the 2018 figure of 165.

The average number of male prisoners was 3,801 an increase of 2% on the 2018 figure of 3,726.

There was an increase of 878, or 18.2%, in the numbers committed to prison under sentence from 4,812 in 2018 to 5,690 in 2019.

In custody

The total number of prisoners in custody on 1 January 2019 was 3,904 increasing to 4,068 by the end of August before receding to 3,950 at year-end.

There were 861 committals for the non-payment of a court-ordered fine, which represents an 89% increase (+406) over 2018.

Of this cohort, 77.2% were male and 22.8% were female.

Numbers committed on sentences of five to less than 10 years has increased by five or 2.7% from 183 in 2018 to 188 in 2019.

Numbers committed on sentences of 10 years plus has increased by 4 or 12.1% from 33 in 2018 to 37 in 2019.

Life sentences decreased by 12 or 57.1% from 21 in 2018 to nine in 2019.


There were 490 committals in respect of immigration issues involving 477 detainees, or an 18% (+76) increase on the previous year.

The average number of female offenders in custody was 170, an increase of 3% on the 2018 figure of 165.

The average number of male prisoners was 3,801 and increase of 2% on the 2018 figure of 3,726.

A full 76% of all committals under sentence in 2019 were for sentences of 12 months or less. This compares with 74% of all committals in 2018.

Since 2017 there has been an increase in the number of prisoners held on remand, averaging 584 that year and going up to 677 in 2018.

2019 saw a further 4.5% increase to 707.

Remand facility

As the State’s only remand facility at Cloverhill Prison has a bed capacity of 431, this requires remand prisoners to be spread across the prison estate.

Responding to the annual report, IPRT executive director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said: “The figures published today are a stark reminder that imprisonment is over-used as a response to offending in Ireland.

“In particular, the rise in the rate of committals on short sentences points to a failure in policy, which must be addressed if we are to build safer communities and enhance confidence in the criminal justice system.


“International evidence finds that short prison sentences can increase risks to public safety, so it is essential that community-based alternatives are prioritised and resourced.”

This rise in the number committals under short-term sentences comes despite the introduction of the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act 2011, which provides that the court shall consider community service orders as an alternative to sentences of less than 12 months.

 IPRT has called for:

  • The principle of imprisonment as a measure of last resort to be enshrined in statute, which was a core recommendation in the cross-agency, Department of Justice and Equality-led Strategic Review of Penal Policy (Recommendation 32),
  • Publication by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons of their revised prison bed capacity figures,
  • Investment by the next Government in community-based sanctions nationwide, including national roll out of evidence-led approaches such as restorative justice,
  • A review of the impact of the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment Act) 2011,

A review of the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014.

'Mass incarceration'

Meanwhile, in Netflix documentary 13th, scholars, activists and politicians analyse the criminalisation of African Americans and the US prison boom. 

The documentary examines how the 13th amendment to the US constitution emancipated slaves but subsequent decades saw growing rates of imprisonment in the African-American population.

Currently, the US is at its highest rate of imprisonment in history.

Almost one-third of black men in their twenties are either on parole, on probation, or in prison


One quarter of the world’s inmates are now inside US jails, despite the States accounting for only 5% of the world’s population.

The number of US prisoners has risen from 329,122 in 1980, to 2,121,600 in July 2019, despite crime rates decreasing nationally.

This “mass incarceration” has disproportionately affected the African American population.

Key factors include the politically-driven ‘war on drugs’, in response to an inner-city crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980s.


Prison privatisation during the 1980-88 Reagan administration saw the emergence of the for-profit prison industry. 

Former US President Bill Clinton has also accepted blame for the situation. His 1994 Crime Bill, with its ‘three strikes and you’re out’ provision, led to life in jail without parole for many prisoners. 

“Truth-in-sentencing” laws, required people convicted of violent crimes to serve at least 85% of their sentences.

“I signed a bill that made the problem worse,” Clinton said in 2015. “And I want to admit it.”


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