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Jails crisis as number of prisoners doubles

THE number of people in prison has almost doubled since Fianna Fail took power in 1997, say new figures released by the Department of Justice.

There are now 4,132 criminals locked up in the country's prisons -- 434 more than on the same day last year and nearly 1,800 more than when Fianna Fail entered government.

The figures were supplied to Labour's defence spokesperson Brian O'Shea, who asked Justice Minister Dermot Ahern "whether the chronic shortage of prison spaces is impacting on law enforcement".

The minister has revealed that in February 1997 there were 2,334 prisoners in the system.

By 2001, this had jumped to 3,024 before taking another small jump to 3,167 by 2004.

The gradual upward trend continued in recent years with the biggest jump taking place in the past year.

Mr Ahern admitted: "There has been a dramatic rise in the numbers of criminals in custody. (It) clearly demonstrates the impact increased resources provided to gardai and the courts which this Government has provided is having in the fight against crime".

According to the Department, the Irish Prison Service has an extensive programme of investment in prison buildings.