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Women now one in five of all prisoners

THE impact of the recession and the jailing for the non-payment of fines has contributed to a major rise in the number of female prisoners.

New figures show that almost one in five people committed to prisons last year were women.

A total of 3,093 female committals were recorded in 2014 - a significant increase on previous years.

The figures, released to Fine Gael TD for Louth Fergus O'Dowd, reveal that 19pc of all committals last year were women.

Last night, the Irish Penal Reform Trust said it believed the impact of the recession has contributed to the sharp hike.

The organisation also said a sharp rise in the number of people being imprisoned for fines was another contributory factor.

"The trend is deeply worrying. The impact of a mother, for example, being sent to prison even for a few hours is huge on families. It can be extremely traumatic for children," said the IPRT's deputy director Fiona Ni Chinneide.

"Generally, women are sent to prison for lesser offences, for example shoplifting. But certainly there are alternatives that need to be given much greater consideration," she added.

Mr O'Dowd, who obtained the information through a parliamentary question, said the Government needs to adopt better strategies aimed at keeping women out of prison.

"The number of women being sent to jail is increasing and that must set off alarm bells," he said.

"We have to find ways whereby prison is a last resort. It's vitally important that women, in particular those with children, can be kept out of prison if there are alternative forms of punishment," he added.