Number of women in Northern Ireland prison hits five-year high
The number of women in Northern Ireland's only female prison is at the highest level in the past five years.
The BBC has reported the number of women at Hydebank Wood Prison has reached as high as 84 in recent weeks.
Female prisoners are housed in the 71-capacity Ash House at Hydebank, which also houses young offenders.
The Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) has said that developing a separate prison facility for women is "a priority".
In 2017/18 the average daily number of female prisoners was 57, but this has soared in recent weeks to over 80.
Numbers peaked at 84 in mid-July but have now fallen back to 81.
The crime which most often landed women in prison was theft, making up around 30% of inmates at the Hydebank facility.
NIPS has confirmed to the BBC that inmates are being housed in other facilities due to the high number currently incarcerated.
"It is not unusual for prison populations to fluctuate, which is why NIPS has plans in place to manage this throughout its estate," a spokesperson said.
"While Ash House has 71 rooms, it is not the only facility for female prisoners at Hydebank Wood. Therefore 'doubling up' is not always necessary but can be accommodated, if necessary, on a voluntary basis."
A Department of Justice spokesperson said the department is committed to "reducing offending among women" and recognised the high number of inmates as a "significant issue"
"The Department is reviewing and revising its strategy for women in the justice system with a specific focus on prevention, diversion and support in the community," the spokesperson said.
"This will include the issues highlighted in relation to accommodation, mental health support, and social care provision."
Belfast Telegraph Digital