The average number of prisoners in custody in 1994 was 2,141. This figure had risen to 3,112 in 2002. The number of persons in prison custody on 27 January 2004 was 3,168. The total annual number of committals to prison custody by the courts has risen by 15%, from 10,153 to 11,860, during the years 1994 to 2002.
As the Deputy is no doubt aware the 1990s, in a prison context, was blighted by a persistent high level of overcrowding in our committal institutions which resulted in the granting of release in an unstructured manner to many offenders at an early stage in their sentences. This situation was in serious danger of undermining the credibility of our whole system of criminal justice as the prison capacity available was totally insufficient to accommodate those sent there from the courts. As a result, almost 20% of those persons under sentence were out on temporary release. The construction of a large number of prison spaces in recent years has created a situation whereby the Irish Prison Service is now in a much better position to accommodate prisoners for the duration of their sentences.