THE Irish Prison Service (IPS) has cracked down on telephone access for prisoners after bosses became concerned at the high cost of so-called "compassionate" phone calls.
New figures released to the Herald reveal that almost €900,000 was spent on prisoners' phone calls in 2014 - a significant rise on previous years.
And correspondence between the IPS and the governors of the country's jails show concern was raised over the "extremely costly" calls made on compassionate grounds.
The IPS warned in September that the cost of compassionate calls is "not sustainable", adding that a lack of any set procedure appears to have added to the high cost.
"A recent review of the prison expenditure has highlighted that prisoners' compassionate phone calls are proving extremely costly," the letter states.
The IPS tightened rules surrounding compassionate phone calls, giving authority for sanctioning such calls to the rank of Chief Officer or above. At the end of each month, a report must now be circulated to each Governor detailing the number of compassionate calls made at their respective prisons.
The overall cost for phone calls has significantly increased, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The overall bill totalled €889,705 in last year, compared to €790,018 in 2013 and €706,285 the previous year.
In November, the IPS initiated a further tightening of controls following the discovery that a number of phone calls between prisoners and their solicitors were inadvertently recorded. The IPS admitted that calls involving a total of 139 inmates have now been identified.
The practice has been in place in all of the nation's prisons, except two open centres and a block in the maximum security Portlaoise jail, since July 2010.
The anomaly was discovered when the director general of the prison service, Michael Donnellan, requested his IT section to confirm there were no issues in the jail in relation to recording phone calls in view of developments in the garda force.
He was told there could be an issue involving conversations where prisoners had more than one solicitor.
The prison service stressed that the contents of the calls had not been made available to the gardai or to any third party.
Prisoners affected were written to in a letter that was hand-delivered by each respective Governor.
A diktat was later issued which said calls to solicitors must only be made to landlines unless in exceptional circumstances.