Concern has been expressed about figures showing that the number of beds across the Irish prison estate has reached capacity.
Total numbers in prison in Ireland now exceed the number of beds available, and Limerick (female) Prison has reached highs of 164% capacity.
In total, 4,416 people were in jail across prisons in Ireland this week, with only 4,411 beds available.
The number of people in Irish prisons was just 750 in 1970, 1,200 in 1980, 2,100 in 1990, and 2,948 in 2000.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust has called on the Minister for Justice to make immediate efforts to adequately resource the proposed actions in the recently published Review of Policy Options for Prison and Penal Reform.
Acting executive director Molly Joyce said: “The Government has indicated that they are committed to exploring the policy of ‘prison as a last resort’ through 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 reality on the ground.”
The amount of people in prison accelerated in 2022 and the numbers were continuing to grow into 2023, she said.
“While there were some welcome reductions 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’,” she added.
Rehabilitation cannot be delivered effectively in prisons, which undermines one of the core purposes of imprisonment, she said.
The number of people in prison should be reduced now by careful and structured use of temporary and early-release measures, Joyce said.
“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,” she added.
IPRT also believes that the continued delay in publishing the Prison Chaplain Annual Report for 2021 misses an opportunity to shed light on what is happening in Irish prisons.