Inmates sleeping on camp beds due to overcrowding at state-of-the-art women’s prison

The women's wing of Limerick Prison was opened officially in October of last year. Photo: Brendan Gleeson.

NINE prisoners were sleeping on camp beds in Limerick Women’s Prison this week in lieu of sleeping on floors due to overcrowding inside the state-of-the-art jailhouse, which underwent a multi-million euro rebuild last year.

The women’s jail, which was officially opened by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee last October, has a total bed capacity for 56 inmates. However, 65 prisoners were being held at the prison as of Tuesday this week, according to figures released by the Irish Prison Service.

“Camp beds have been deployed at Limerick Female Prison to remove the need for people to sleep on the floor,” a prison service spokesman told the Limerick Post.

“The size and design of the cells at the new Limerick Female Prison allows for the use of these beds. These cells are built to a size, which makes them suitable for double occupancy if required,” he said.

The women’s prison, situated on Mulgrave Street, includes comfortable new en suite bedroom units and a mother and baby unit where prisoners can live with their newborn for up to 12 months. Each room includes television and telephone facilities, there is a gymnasium, courtyard, and gardens, as well as a hair and beauty salon.

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The men’s prison, located adjacent to the women’s prison, is also currently overcrowded.

“As of Tuesday February 20th, Limerick male prison had 310 in custody with a bed capacity of 286,” the spokesman confirmed.

The process of ‘slopping out’, whereby male prisoners without a flush toilet had to manually empty their human waste from buckets from their cells at Limerick Prison, only ended last year after completion of construction of a new accommodation block at the jail, which was established in 1821.

Last year, then acting Minister for Justice Simon Harris said that the cost to the State for compensating prisoners who were forced to slop-out amounted to €7.62million and that the State Claims Agency had paid out €3.94million in damages to 1,180 prisoners in the state, who won actions against the State for breaches of their human rights, with an average pay-out of €3,342 per prisoner and legal costs amounting to €3.68million.

Speaking in respect of current prison toilet facilities, the prison service spokesman said it was “not possible to introduce fully partitioned toilet facilities in traditional closed prison cells as to do so would negatively impact on the availability of living space within the cell”.

He added that “fully screened in-cell toilet facilities are only available for female prisoners located in the cells of the new Limerick Female Prison and in seven rooms in Phoenix House at the Dóchas Centre in Dublin”.

However the prison service is currently making arrangements “for the installation of a new modesty curtain in multi-occupancy cells in Wheatfield Prison”, where male prisoners are housed.

“This pilot project, which will be implemented in Q1 this year, will test the suitability of this new privacy curtain and will inform the best method of installation taking account of health and safety requirements.

“The pilot will be reviewed in Q3 2024 and, if successful, will be rolled out to other cells in the second half of 2024,” the prison service said.