One in seven prisoners have requested to be locked up in their cell for up to 23 hours a day amid worsening conditions in Irish prisons, a new report has found.
This compares to one in nine inmates four years ago.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) said the extent to which prisoners have requested a ‘restricted regime’ is a result of dangerous conditions in prison.
A 'restricted regime' means prisoners remaining in their cell from 19 up to 23 hours a day.
An average of 513 people requested, and were granted, protection every day in 2021, representing 14 per cent of the total daily population.
This is up from an average of 425 inmates per day in 2017, which was 11 per cent of the total daily population.
IPRT reported that, over the last five years, too many people have continued to be sentenced to short terms of imprisonment rather than being diverted to alternative sanctions in the community.
"The lack of any publicly-available data that might help explain why the courts are choosing not to use alternative sanctions is a particular concern for IPRT," the report stated.
Molly Joyce, IPRT deputy director, said: "It is clear that Ireland is still nowhere near the PIPS target, established in 2017, of reducing the prison population to 50 per 100,000. Indeed, the data available to us worryingly demonstrates that imprisonment has prevailed as a default response to less-serious offending. While there has been some progress in reducing prison numbers in reaction to the Covid crisis, overall, the slow progress over the last five years has demonstrated that more needs to be done to ensure prison is being used as a sanction of last resort.”
The organisation has called on the Department of Justice to review the Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) Act 2011, "particularly as this relates to the use of short custodial sentences".
“The high number of people continually being sentenced to short terms of imprisonment, and the lack of information as to why this is happening, acts as a huge barrier to achieving the long-term goal of reduced prison numbers,” said Ms Joyce.
The report noted the limited out-of-cell time for a large number of prisoners is of particular concern due to the impact on people's mental health.