To ensure that information is made available to the widest possible range of stakeholders, the Irish Prison Service collates and publishes the prisoner population breakdown on a daily basis. This information is available on the website of the Irish Prison Service website www.irishprisons.ie (in the Information Centre, under Statistics & Information – Daily Prisoner Population). The number of prisoners incarcerated and the bed capacity in each prison is included in that information.
I can inform the Deputy that the total number of prisoners in custody on 18 November 2019 was 4,009, compared to a bed capacity of 4,244. This represents an occupancy level of 94%. Almost all of the closed institutions are operating at or near full capacity.
It is important to note that the Irish Prison Service must accept all prisoners committed by the Courts. The prisoner population varies over time depending on a range of factors.
An audit of existing accommodation is underway, in order to identify where additional spaces can be brought on stream. The construction of the female prison in Limerick as well as a new wing for Limerick male prison are underway. Together they will provide 158 new spaces.
I am further advised that plans are advanced for the re-opening of accommodation not currently being used within the prison system. This includes the re-opening of the Training Unit which will provide over 90 additional spaces.
Where the number of prisoners exceeds the maximum capacity in any prison, I am informed that the Prison Service makes very effort to deal with this through a combination of inter-prison transfers and Temporary Release. Decisions in relation to temporary release are considered on a case-by-case basis. The safety of the public is paramount when those decisions are made.
The Deputy may be interested to know for example that Community Return is an initiative whereby carefully selected prisoners, serving sentences from one to eight years, can be granted reviewable temporary release coupled with a requirement to do community service work. Since its inception, 2,279 prisoners have been released to take part in this scheme. There were also 2,460 prisoners serving sentences between 3 and 12 months released to take part in the Community Support Scheme.