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Ireland’s prisons ‘on edge of overcrowding’
Pic: RollingNews.ie

06 Jun 2024 / justice Print

Ireland’s prisons ‘on edge of overcrowding’

An annual report on Europe’s prisons has described overcrowding as “an acute and persistent problem’ in a significant number of European prison administrations.

According to the Council of Europe, Ireland is “on the edge” of overcrowding, with a prison density of 99 inmates per 100 places available in the year from 31 January 2022 to 31 January 2023.

The ‘SPACE’ report on penal statistics, compiled by the University of Lausanne, shows that the overall density figure for the 48 European countries covered rose to 93.5 from 91.7 in the previous year.

Seven countries recorded figures above 105, indicating “severe overcrowding”.

‘Significant’ rise in Ireland

Ireland was one of 16 countries described as recording a “significant” increase in its prison population over the year, with the number of people held rising by 12%.

The figures show that, while Ireland recorded one of the biggest increases in its incarceration rate (11.7%) over the year, its overall rate of 85 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants remained one of the lowest in Europe.

Ireland’s prisons held 4,432 people by the end of January 2023 – just under 5% were women and 14.6% were foreign inmates.

The report shows that 20.6% of inmate in Irish prisons had not yet received a final prison sentence.

The suicide rate in Irish prisons, at 2.3%, is well below the European median, but the rate of escapes (4.5%) is among the highest.

COVID effect?

The figures show that only 5% of inmates across Europe were women, while the figure for foreign inmates was 27%.

Drug-related offences continued to be the most common main conviction among Europe’s prisoners, accounting for 18.5% of the prison population, followed by homicide or attempted homicide (12.8%), and theft (11.5%).

Prof Marcelo Aebi, who heads the University of Lausanne’s SPACE research team, noted that the overall European prison population rate rose slightly for the second consecutive year.

“This could still be a bounce-back effect from the reduction experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic years, due to the drop in offline crimes during the lockdowns, the release of prisoners in some countries, and a decrease in the activity of the criminal-justice systems,” he said.

“However, this increase contrasts starkly with the overall strong downward trend in incarceration rates since 2013,” Prof Aebi noted.

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