Bishop Martin Hayes of Kilmore, who is the liaison bishop for prison chaplains, has said that capacity issues in prisons are resulting in a step backwards in the care of prisoners.
"Mountjoy Prison is under huge pressure," the bishop said in a statement, adding that the capacity to provide space for the prison population was falling far short as the general prison population expanded.
Overcrowding had resulted in two prisoners occupying one cell, the bishop said, and he had witnessed one prisoner lying on the floor on a thin mattress.
The bishop pointed out that the appointment of more judges would result in more committals to prison.
"The prison system is unable to rehabilitate prisoners and prepare them for re-entry into the world," he added.
"Drugs are sought as a way of coping with prison life and, of course, hinder rehabilitation efforts," he said.
Following a recent visit to support the prison chaplaincy team in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, Bishop Hayes said: "I gained an appreciation of the work of the chaplains and their rapport with prisoners. It is readily apparent that the chaplain's role is valued by both management and staff.
"At all times, I am conscious of the victims of crime and, in particular, of those people bereaved by the loss of family or friends due to the actions of convicted criminals."
Bishop Hayes added that people were sent to prison in the hope that they would mend their ways and be rehabilitated.
"However, our prison system, despite the best of intentions, is struggling to achieve rehabilitation for those in custody. It is in this context that we cannot forget about those who are sent to prison, the men and women who are serving time for crimes that they committed.
"It is clear to me that the prison system in Mountjoy Prison is under huge pressure to cope with the demands placed upon it.
"The key message for me was that, while the population of our country has increased, the capacity of our Irish Prison Service – in terms of the total number of available cells – has not."
He added that while facilities for prisoners had been improved, the design of the Victorian building limited its scope.
"My conversations revealed that, despite the best efforts of management and [the] education personnel involved, the prison system is unable to rehabilitate prisoners and prepare them for re-entry into the world.
"Prisoners spoke to me of finding it hard at a time when they cannot avail of education classes. In speaking with an 'enhanced' prisoner – who has been afforded more work duties for good behaviour – he stated that the chaotic nature of prison life does not enable rehabilitation or promote a respect for the law, in preparation for life outside prison."
Bishop Hayes added: "Another challenge is the ease with which drugs can be delivered into the prison. As Mountjoy is a prison in a city, drugs can literally be catapulted into the grounds, thus increasing their 'market' value."
Society had a responsibility to uphold the human dignity of those in jail, the bishop said.
"It is absolutely in the interest of the common good that we do what we can for prisoners to help them return to society as a neighbour who, thereby, can make a positive contribution to our communities.
"If a person sent to prison feels forgotten and abandoned by society, the likelihood is that she or he will return to society angry and liable to return to a life of crime," Bishop Hayes concluded.