Prisoners – by Joe McVeigh




According to recent figures (February 2024), there are 1,866 prisoners in the north of Ireland in four prisons –1,233 in Maghaberry, 497 in Magilligan , 47 Males in Hydebank Wood and 89 Females in Ash House, Hydebank Wood. Of the total number of prisoners, 1,777 are Male and 89 are Female.

There are 210 serving Life and indeterminate custodial sentences. Most prisoners (501) are serving from one year to 5 years. There are 27 serving sentences of 3 months or less. There are 148 serving from 5 years to life.

Most prisoners (707) are aged between 30-39yrs. There are 444 aged between 21-29yrs. There are 352 aged between 40 and 49yrs. There are 126 prisoners aged over 60yrs. And there are 39 aged between 18 and 20 years.

I am surprised that there are so many people of all ages in prison here in the north of Ireland. I am surprised that there are so many women in prison. It would take a more in-depth study to find out exactly why so many women are presently in prison in the North.

I believe prison should always be a last resort for people brought before the courts. The Judges and the courts should always look for alternative ways of responding to offenders. Society should always be looking for alternative ways of dealing with law breakers. I wonder has Restorative justice been tried here as a way of dealing with less serious offences?

In the Netherlands there are few prisoners because they are geared towards rehabilitation. It is the same in Switzerland.


In the South (Republic) of Ireland, there are 4612 prisoners  in 12 prisons. Most are serving sentences of less than 12 months.

The average number of females is 173 which increased by 14% between 2012 and 2022. The biggest issue in the southern system is overcrowding and lack of private toilet facilities.


I think that in the new Ireland there needs to be a lot of rethinking about the rehabilitation of young offenders. We should learn from the experience in the Netherlands and other countries where there are few prisoners.


According to Fr Gerry McFlynn of the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO) based in London, there are 1000 (approx.) Irish nationals scattered throughout the 122 prisons in England and Wales.  Today, Irish nationals constitute the second largest ethnic group (after Nigerians) in the prison estate in England and Wales.)

“The prisoners cover all age groups and their offences range from petty theft to serious offences such as armed robbery, murder and rape. Conditions in the prisons have improved significantly since the 1990’s, although conditions in the older Victorian prisons such as Brixton, Pentonville and Wandsworth in London are still somewhat Dickensian.

 “Much of the bullying and intimidation by officers which was endemic during the 1990’s has disappeared even though we still hear about such behaviour from time to time. We have a relatively small number of female prisoners (around 2 percent) even though this category is growing within the overall prison population.

“Irish prisoners are fortunate to have an organisation such as the ICPO as a resource. This is not the case with other foreign nationals – even those from other EU countries. The outreach work of the ICPO continues today, better structured than ever before and more fully integrated into the life of the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain.”

The USA has the highest prison population in the world with 2,135,901 prisoners. China is next with 1,548,498 followed by Russia with 822,900.
























Comments are closed.