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Prisoner numbers rising after pandemic pause

09 Sep 2022 / justice Print

Prisoner numbers rising after pandemic pause

The annual report of the Irish Prison Service (IPS) shows that there was a slight fall in the average number of people in prison each day in 2021.

The figure for last year was 3,792 – down by just under 1% compared to 2020.

IPS Director General Caron McCaffrey (pictured) said that the drop was a reflection of reduced activity in the courts during the year.

Commenting on the report, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee also said that 2022 had seen "a sustained increase" in prisoner numbers across the system.

Non-payment of fines

One of the main factors in the overall decline was a reduction in the number of people committed for non-payment of a court-ordered fine.

Overall, there were 6,133 committals to prison in 2021 – a fall of just over 3% from 2020. The number of people sent to prison dropped by 1.6% to 5,179.

Committals under sentence, however, showed an increase of more than 5% when the figures for non-payment of fines were stripped out.

Longer sentences

The report also shows that there was an increase in the number of people given shorter sentences. Those receiving a sentence of less than three months rose by 16% compared to 2020.

The figure for three- to six-month sentences also rose – by almost 15%.

Those receiving longer sentences also increased, with the number given sentences of ten years or more almost doubling to 39, compared with 21 in 2020.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) welcomed the reduction in the overall average prison figures for 2021. It added, however, that the high numbers who continued to be committed to prison on short sentences suggested that the courts were not making use of "cheaper, less damaging, and more effective alternatives to prison".

'Business as usual'

"While there were some welcome shifts in the use of imprisonment in 2020 and 2021, due to the pandemic, more recent data suggests that this has not been sustained, and we are back to business as usual," commented Saoirse Brady (IPRT executive director ).

"There continues to be an over-reliance on imprisonment for people convicted of less serious offences, despite its damaging social and economic impact on individuals, families, and communities," Brady stated.

The IPS annual report shows that the service dealt with 17 outbreaks of COVD-19 across the system in 2021, with 401 staff cases, and 356 among prisoners.

It also shows increases in the number of illegal drugs and mobile phones seized in prisons last year.

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