Prisons' €370k spend on sports and gym equipment for inmates
THE Irish Prison Service (IPS) spent almost €370,000 on sports and gym equipment in the past two years.
With long hours to fill every day, many of the country's 3,690 inmates turn to the gyms, pumping iron to pass the time.
Gangster John Gilligan, who survived an assassination attempt last March, buffed up every day during his 17-year stay in Portlaoise Prison after he was convicted of drug smuggling.
Current jailbird Alan 'Fatpuss' Bradley reportedly makes good use of the gym equipment in the same prison while he serves a seven-year sentence for his role in a botched raid on a cash van that was carrying almost €900,000.
All 14 Irish prisons have at least one gym area equipped with static cardiovascular and weight training machines.
Use of the gyms by inmates "remains the largest single activity in each prison", an IPS spokesman said.
He added that each prison has at least one work and training officer who has a National Certificate in Education and Fitness and has responsibility for encouraging prisoner participation in an active lifestyle.
The agency's €368,263 spending on inmate fitness covered two categories.
The IPS spent €56,478 in 2013 and 2014 under the heading "Sports, Gym & Recreation - Assets". The spokesman said that items costing more than €1,000 are covered in this category and "could include expenditure on gym equipment such as treadmills or cross trainers".
Most of the spending - €311,785 - was on "Sports & Recreation Equipment - Supplies and Repairs".
The outlay is significantly high when compared with other expenditure by the State, such as the cost of running a hostel for homeless people.
Fr Peter McVerry has said a hostel catering for 10 homeless people would cost €300,000 a year to run and 10 apartments with one staff member would cost around €45,000 a year.
The Ronald McDonald house for parents of children who are attending Our Lady's Hospital costs around €300,000 a year to run.
The gym equipment figures were released under Freedom of Information laws, but a detailed breakdown of the specific items bought was refused by the Department of Justice.
It said the provision of that information would require a detailed examination of two years of records.
The IPS responded to queries about the expenditure, emphasising that the provision of gym equipment helps in the rehabilitation process.
"Sports and recreation form an important part of the daily regime of prisoners," the spokesman said.
"A prisoner's engagement in the structured education and training can be aided by improvements to their health and fitness."