Number locked up in Portlaoise and other Irish jails must be cut by hundreds more says new report

Pandemic led to significant fall in inmate numbers

Legal costs double compensation awarded to prisoners

Midlands Prison Portlaoise

The number of prisoners behind bars in Portlaoise and other jails around Ireland reduced rapidly within a month of the Covid-19 pandemic hitting Ireland the number incarcerated must be reduced further to below 3,000, according to a new report.

This finding is contained in the 10th Annual Report of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons for 2020. The Inspector focused on capturing and examining the impact of COVID-19 in Irish prisons.

Signed off by Patricia Gilheaney, Inspector of Prisons, in March 2021, it found that the change was significant.

"Within one month of the onset of the pandemic, the prison population was reduced by nearly 9% from 4,214 on 12 March 2020 to 3,839 on 13 April 2020.

Over the course of the year, the prison population in Ireland reduced by a total of 7.6%, from 3,950 on 1 January 2020 to 3,650 on 31 December 2020.

"In prisons which accommodated women, the population was decreased by more than one quarter in the initial period of COVID-19 restrictions," it said.

The report says that the reduction in the number of persons in custody in Irish prisons is reflective of measures taken to prevent and reduce transmission of COVID-19.

It says early and temporary release was applied to an increased number of prisoners described as ‘low risk’ and who were assessed on an individual basis. Two target groups were identified for release: (i) prisoners serving sentences of less than 12 months for non-violent offences, and (ii) prisoners with less than six months remaining on their sentence.

"While the Inspectorate welcomes the overall reduction of the prison population, the total number of persons in custody would need to be below 3,000 to ensure single-cell occupancy in Irish prisons; a measure which would aid in transmission prevention," says the report.

The Inspector says the IPS approach to managing Covid-19 has been heralded as best practice, and is inclusive of a contact tracing model commended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

It adds that the IPS’s proactive efforts to prevent transmission of COVID-19 into the prisoner population resulted in a minimal number of Covid-19 cases in Irish prisons; this is to be commended.

However, the report says more can be done.

"The Inspectorate, in accordance with the guidelines provided by the United Nations Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the World Health Organization, urges the IPS to consider the need to further decrease the prison population as a measure to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in Irish Prisons.

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