Women sleeping on floor in Limerick Prison

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Justice Minister Helen McEntee with Irish Prison Service Director General Caron McCaffrey at Limerick Prison.

OVERCROWDING at Limerick Women’s Prison is so bad that prisoners have had to sleep on mattresses on floors more than 200 times over the past three months.

According to figures provided by Justice Minister Helen McEntee, in response to parliamentary questions by Patrick Costello and Éamon Ó Cuív, up to seven prisoners a night have had no bed since the start of  September.

During that time, there were only seven nights when no female prisoner was sleeping on a mattress in Limerick.

A 13 per cent increase in committals of women in the first nine months of this year has exacerbated the situation.

Minister McEntee said the Prison Service must accept all prisoners committed by the courts and has no control over the numbers committed to custody at any given time.

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“Where the number of prisoners exceeds the maximum capacity in any prison, Prison Service officials make every effort to deal with this through a combination of inter-prison transfers and structured temporary release.

“Decisions in relation to temporary release are considered on a case-by-case basis and the safety of the public is paramount when those decisions are made,” the Minister explained.

The minister also referred to the construction of a new prison in Limerick, which should be operational in the first quarter of next year and will provide 22 additional female cell spaces.

“We are also taking a number of short and medium-term steps to address the issue of increasing prison numbers,” she added.