Government proposes slashing sentences by third for non-lifers in response to 200 prisoners sleeping on the floor. Up to a third of prisoners would not be there if they had received mental health care

A front page report in today’s Irish Mail says former justice minister Simon Harris ordered officials to fast-track a review into cutting criminals jail sentences by a third in a bid to address prison overcrowding.

In 2005 €51 million was squandered on the purchase of Thornton Hall in North County Dublin to build a state of the art prison to accommodate 2000.

This plan never materialised. The purchase of the site was shrouded in controversy but a public inquiry was never held. It still lies idle.

The most recent data from the Irish Prison Reform Trust shows there was 4,178 people in prison custody in Ireland 1 September 2022 costing €80,335 each per annum.

Over one-third (36%) of all persons committed to prison in 2021 declared Dublin as their county of residence.

Almost 2/3 were serving a prison sentence of less than 12 months.

The majority of Irish prisoners have never sat a State exam and over half left school before the age of 15.

As of April 2022, 1,908 (47.5%) prisoners were required to use the toilet in the presence of another prisoner.

In 2021, there were 234 committals to prison for the non-payment of a court-ordered fine, a decrease on the 2020 figure of 285.

The number of sentenced committals for road and traffic offences increased from 384 in 2020 to 464 in 2021.

Last August journalist Mick Clifford told the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk that prisons in Ireland are being used as a “dumping ground” for the mentally ill who should be cared for by medical professionals instead.

Prisoners are medically assessed upon arrival in jail and the Central Mental Hospital provides psychiatric care to inmates in Dublin and the Midlands. 

“At least over a third of Irish prisoners in Irish prisons have some form of a mental health condition,” he said.

“Anyone who is working in the service in any kind of managerial level will tell you stories about constantly being on to the central mental hospital trying to have someone transferred there. 

“No fault of the hospitals but there just simply aren’t beds. 

“To that extent prisons are being used as a dumping ground for people whose primary issue is a mental health condition rather than any propensity to commit violent crime,” he said and questioned the practice of sentencing mentally ill people to prison instead of providing them with the mental health supports that they deserve,” he told Pat Kenny