Prisoners sleeping on camp beds in Limerick Women’s Prison despite new wing

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

DESPITE the much-lauded opening a new female wing in Limerick prison last October, there are now 15 women being forced to sleep on camp beds.

That’s according to leaders in the Prison Officers Association (POA) , whose annual conference took place this past week.

The state-of-the-art women’s wing facility, based on the trauma-informed Scandinavian model, which aims to foster rehabilitation and thereby reduce recidivism, came in ahead of schedule and under budget, the Irish Prison Service said.

The total cost of the B Division in Limerick’s male prison and the G wing for the new Limerick Women’s Prison was €70m.

All 56 rooms are designed for single occupancy, with ensuite showers, and there are eight assisted-living apartments, making it the first Irish prison with two-room apartments for one person.

Sign up for the weekly Limerick Post newsletter

The POA says there has been an increase of more than 1,000 prisoners in the country’s jails since 2019, but the number of additional spaces has only increased by 43.

The association explained that the Midlands Prison has 100 more prisoners than it has space for, Cloverhill Prison has 70 additional, and Cork Prison, the country’s newest, has 52 prisoners sleeping on the floor. Mountjoy Prison, with 845 prisoners, has seen a 25 per cent rise in the last five years.

In one wing at Castlerea Prison, every single cell is doubled up with another 10 inmates sleeping on the floor.

Originally designed for 85 inmates, the Dóchas Centre female prison has 175 inmates, with women being accommodated in offices and locker rooms that were never designed to be cells.

POA president Tony Power also said that there has been a 25 per cent increase in prisoners in custody over the past five years with levels of overcrowding at unsafe and unacceptable levels.

Mr Power accused Minister Helen McEntee and the Director General of ignoring their concerns and continually failing to address these issues.

He said Minister McEntee and the Director General seem to think prison officers “can just put inmates somewhere and get on with it” and accused them of “directly contributing to an unsafe and unworkable environment” by not properly planning for the future.

He also said in an overcrowded system, without adequate access to services, management were hindering the good work of prison officers and impacting directly on the potential rehabilitation of prisoners.

The conference this past week heard that restraints and attacks on officers and on prisoners increased by 140 per cent in three years from 376 in 2020 to 891 last year, a situation not helped by overcrowding.