Belfast Telegraph

Courts imprisoned 17,318 people

There were 17,318 committals to prison by the courts last year, official figures have revealed.

Of the 4,313 inmates in jail at the end of November last year, 291 were lifers, 290 were serving 10 years or more and 20 people were there for not paying a fine.

According to the Irish Prison Service role call on November 30, the numbers in custody were relatively unchanged year-on-year, down just 2.9% on 2010 figures.

But with committals over the year up, Justice Minister Alan Shatter said the greatest challenge for the prison system is the increasing number of people being jailed while efforts are being made to increase space.

Mr Shatter said progress was being mad, pointing to 300 new places in the Midlands by the end of the year while work is to begin in late 2015 on redeveloping Cork jail to create a 250-space unit and plans are under way for a 100-cell accommodation block in Limerick.

The overall daily average number of prisoners in custody last year was 4,390 compared with 4,290 in the previous year. The average number of female offenders in jail was 160, compared with 157, the report shows.

The snapshot of prison population on November 30 last year shows the largest number of inmates were aged between 30 and 40 and the most common offence was drug-related and the most likely sentence was five to 10 years. The other most common offences were theft, attempts and threats to murder, and assaults and homicides.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust said the Government must address the growing number of women committed to prison and the continuing high rate of imprisonment for fine defaulters.

Executive director Liam Herrick said: "Given that the number of prisoners had increased by 30% over the preceding three years, the fact that 2011 saw static prison growth is encouraging. At the same time there remain some worrying trends such as the increase in female prisoners, the persistent use of prison for fine default and the ageing of the prison population. We also cannot afford to be complacent."

Mr Herrick also said overcrowding remains a chronic problem.

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