MORE than 100 inmates of Cork prison are now on temporary release as the Irish Prison Service frees up space to prepare for Coronavirus cases in the prison system.
Each of the prisons in the system are now operating under capacity so that inmates who need to will be able to self isolate.
According to the Irish Prison Service figures, there were 104 inmates on temporary release from Cork prison on Tuesday, while there were 271 prisoners in the facility itself.
The building has a bed capacity for 296 inmates.
There were 327 inmates in the prison on one day in early March and in recent weeks, there have been incidents of prisoners sleeping on mattresses to help alleviate overcrowding.
On Tuesday, there were 579 inmates on temporary release from prisons across the country. Mountjoy had the highest on temporary release, with 111 inmates.
Cork is second to Mountjoy and the numbers on temporary release from the Rathmore Road facility accounted for almost a fifth of the overall figure.
Garda sources said they are hopeful that the release of inmates will not lead to a spike in crime as they believe the majority of them will behave well to ensure they will not be returned to prison.
One said: "The Irish Prison Service are risk assessing each one and are happy that they will not re-offend. If they are on temporary release and re-offend, they can be brought back to the prison again."
A statement from the Irish Prison Service said a prison is a unique environment.
The statement continued: "The sheer numbers and diversity of people who pass through our prisons make vigilance around infection prevention and control absolutely necessary. The confirmation of a case of COVID-19 in a prison setting would present significant challenges for prison management in terms of controlling the spread of the virus amongst staff and prisoners, and the provision of appropriate medical treatment to affected persons."
It added: "In this regard, the Irish Prison Service is in discussion with the Department of Justice and Equality on a number of contingency measures to reduce the number of people in custody in a controlled manner. The primary factor in the consideration of any prisoner for early release is public safety and no prisoner would be granted temporary release who poses an undue risk to public safety."
Under legislation, temporary release can be for just a few hours or for a more extended period.
Concerns about overcrowding in Cork were heard at the Prison Officers Association conference in Sligo last May.
Throughout the past year, figures in the prison have spiked and the building is regularly at capacity, or overcrowded.
The criteria considered for granting temporary release include the safety of the public, the nature and gravity of the offence, the length of sentence already served, behaviour in prison and previous criminal history.