There has been an eight per cent decrease in the Irish prison population between February 26th 2020 and the same date this year, according to data from the Irish Prison Service (IPS).
The total prison population on that day in 2020 was 4,626 compared to 4,258 people in prison on February 26th, 2021.
While most prisons saw a decrease in bed capacity, Limerick female prison is still over capacity, recording at 107 per cent its official occupancy capacity.
There has also been a seven per cent fall in the number of prisoners on remand, down from 768 to 714 over the same period.
The prison that recorded the biggest change regarding bed capacity was Loughan House prison in Cavan, which went from 98 per cent to 67 per cent in a year.
While there have been some outbreaks of Covid-19 in Irish prisons, overall there have been far fewer cases in prison than in other congregated settings.
Recently the IPS confirmed it had completed its second round of mass testing for prisoners at Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin.
It said there were no additional cases to report and the second round of mass testing for staff is ongoing and due to be completed later this week.
Despite this, the IPS still faces challenges in 2021 as the backlog of court cases start to be processed.
Alan Armstrong from the IPS told BreakingNews.ie “On March 2020 there were 4,235 prisoners in custody compared to the end of 2020 where the numbers in custody was 3,650, a decrease of 585 or 13 per cent.
“As of March 2nd, 2021, the Prison Service is operating at a bed capacity of about 88 per cent.”
He said the Irish Prison Service had set out a wide range of measures to address the risk presented by Covid-19 in a prison environment.
According to Mr Armstrong: “We have been guided by the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), and consistent with the prison specific guidance for the management of Covid-19 issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and guidance from the Council of Europe,
“Measures including temporary release and inter prison transfers were taken to reduce the prison population in order to ensure good infection control.”
He said the Irish Prison Service will continue to examine and monitor its prisoner population as necessary, including the capacity in each prison.
On the issue of potential overcrowding in prisons, he said the construction of a new male wing and standalone female prison in Limerick prison are due to be completed by March 2022, though this finishing date may change due to Covid-19. Mr Armstrong said these will provide 90 additional male and 40 additional female new spaces.