Pressure on Shatter over rise in early jail releases
ONE in seven prisoners is being let out on temporary release due to a lack of space in the country's jails, new figures reveal.
The number of prisoners on temporary release has jumped to 736 -- more than a five-fold increase on the total six years ago.
The rise in early releases is putting severe pressure on Justice Minister Alan Shatter to fund more prison spaces despite the stringent cutbacks expected in his budget for next year.
Prison officials confirmed last night that there are currently 4,279 people in custody, even with the rise in offenders being let out early.
Mr Shatter blamed the population crisis for the increase in sentenced prisoners, those being committed on remand and a trend towards longer sentences.
Bed capacity in the nation's jails rose from 3,356 in 2006 to 4,106 at the end of 2009 and 4,510 at present. Over the same period the number allowed out on temporary release has gone up from 140 in 2006 to 535 in 2009 and 736 at present.
The minister pointed out that the State had been engaged in a capital programme with almost 600 additional prisoner spaces built since January 2008.
A new accommodation block is being built at the Midlands prison in Portlaoise and will provide 300 spaces, new kitchen and work training/education block and an extension to the visit/reception areas.
It is planned to have the building in use by the middle of next year while the conversion of an administrative building into an accommodation block at the Dochas women's prison in Mountjoy will provide an extra 70 spaces. These will become operational next month.
A decision on the timeframe for the proposed new prisons at Thornton Hall in north Co Dublin and Kilworth, Co Cork, will be taken during the discussions on capital spending priorities for next year.
The new facilities at Thornton will be smaller than originally envisaged and will provide 300 cells.
The prison will also provide step-down accommodation for up to 200 prisoners, who will be prepared on a graduated basis for release.
Mr Shatter said he believed the Thornton plans presented an opportunity to effect real change and would help deliver the core values of normalisation, progression and reintegration of offenders.
It would also allow for the creation of incentives for prisoners to prepare for eventual reintegration to society.