In a recent article published on The Irish Times [source], the question of whether Ireland needs more prison cells or fewer prisoners is at the forefront of public discourse. The discussion gained momentum after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s announcement in November following Josef Puska’s life sentence for the murder of Aisling Murphy. Varadkar emphasized the need for additional prison spaces, stating, “If people want dangerous individuals locked up for a long time, we’re going to need more room in our prisons.”
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee subsequently confirmed plans for the construction of 600 additional spaces across four prison estates. However, not everyone agrees that expanding prison infrastructure is the solution to addressing criminal justice concerns.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has been a vocal advocate for reducing the number of people incarcerated. In light of statistics revealing that nearly three-quarters of committals in 2022 were for 12 months or less, IPRT Director Saoirse Brady argued for a shift towards community service. Brady stated in a recent podcast, “I don’t think that we require extra spaces. It’s actually stated Government policy since August 2022 that we would reduce the number of people going to prison for 12 months or less.”
Despite the call for a reduction in incarceration rates, reports have highlighted severe overcrowding in certain prisons, with Cloverhill Prison mentioned specifically for housing prisoners in what were described as “degrading conditions” last year. This raises the question of whether creating more prison spaces would contribute positively to the well-being of inmates and staff within Irish jails.
Conor Lally, Crime and Security Editor at The Irish Times, contributes to the ongoing debate in the podcast, discussing the advantages and disadvantages of building more spaces for inmates in Irish prisons.
We need to see a shift to people getting more community service. I don’t think that we require extra spaces.Saoirse Brady, IPRT Director