Rise in Garda numbers 'factor' in overcrowded jails in Laois and elsewhere - says Inspector of Prisons

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

Email:

news@leinsterexpress.ie

Prison portlaoise

Prison officers at the Midlands Prison Portlaoise.

An increase in Garda numbers is a factor in Ireland's jails being overcrowded according to the annual report of the Inspector of Prisons.

Patricia Gilheaney discusses the problem and possible causes in her recently published 2018 annual report.

"Overcrowding re-emerged in 2018 after a period of reducing numbers within the prison system. The early figures for 2019 illustrate that this is likely to continue," she writes.

Ms Gilheaney says there are many causes but listed policing changes as the first.

"One factor being the increased number of members of An Garda Síochana, with the resultant increase in offenders being brought before the courts," she wrote.

The Inspector also identifies an increase in prisoners serving long sentences as contributing.

The Inspector says the prison system is open to being criticised for overcrowding but its management must have no choice.

"However, it must be remembered that prisons cannot operate a closed-door policy as governors are required to accept prisoners committed by the courts. 

"The Office of Inspector of Prisons is supportive of effective interventions that provide alternatives to custodial care. Overcrowding is a significant issue that must be addressed and all possible efforts and avenues exhausted if Ireland is to respect the inherent dignity of all persons in prisons," she said.

On the first Monday of December 2019, there were 4,038 in Irish prisons according to the Irish Prison Service data. On the first Monday of December 2018 there were 3,927 in jails. Many of the prisons are near or over capacity.

Tony Power, President of the Prisoners Officers Association, highlighted the issue at the association's 2019 conference. 

"None of us want a return to the ‘Pack em, Stack em and Rack em days’ of the past, where both prisoners and prison officers pay a heavy price – you simply should not allow this to happen on your watch,” he said.

The Department of Justice says that at the end of 2018 the overall Garda workforce was 16,990 comprising 14,032 Garda members, 2,430 civilians and 528 Reserve members. 

It adds that the Government has agreed on a Garda workforce of 21,000 by 2021 to include 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Garda Reserve members and 4,000 civilians.