OVER 70 inmates at Limerick Prison were allowed temporary release at any one time last year due to over-crowding, it has been revealed in the Irish Prison Service report for 2011.
It shows that the average daily number of prisoners in Limerick prison, which has a capacity of 290, was 301 and a further 71 were on temporary release.
Launching the report yesterday, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Alan Shatter, said it is clear that the greatest challenge facing the prison service continues to be the increasing number of prisoners being committed to custody.
However, he said the increase for 2011 was less than in previous years, with a 0.8% increase over the 2010 figures compared with increases of 11.4 and 13.8 percent in the previous two years.
The report shows that there were 17,318 committals to prison in 2011 - an increase of 0.8% on the 2010 total of 17,179.
The average cost of keeping a prisoner in custody in 2011 was €65,359, down from €70,513 in 2010, a decrease of 7.3% resulting from reduced expenditure and an increase in the provision of bed capacity.
Minister Shatter said he is committed to upgrading the prison system, outlining new developments in Limerick and Cork.
“The problem of prison overcrowding remains a challenging issue which unfortunately cannot be resolved overnight. However progress is being made. There are 300 new prison places in the Midlands Prison which will be operational by the end of the year. I am continuing to pursue alternatives to custody where they are appropriate and to address the issue of the lack of in cell sanitation in prisons,” he said.
He has requested the Irish Prison Service to proceed with the preparation of plans for a major redevelopment at Limerick prison “to replace the early 19th century” structure at the Mulgrave Street jail.
The new prison will replace the “A” and “B” wings of Limerick Prison, which are almost 200 years old and are regularly cited in prison reports as being overcrowded and unsanitary.
Minister Shatter said this new modern 100 cell accommodation block will have in-cell sanitation, a dedicated committal unit, a high support unit, ancillary support services, additional recreational areas and a new kitchen facility with work training facilities.