Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

4: Size of prisons (2019)

Standard 4:

Each prison is limited to a maximum prisoner population of 250.[160]


Smaller prisons have the potential to reflect community life more closely and reduce the likelihood of violence. They can also help facilitate the development of positive staff–prisoner relationships.

Current context:

There has been no change to the size of prisons across the estate in 2018–2019. Building projects have progressed;[161] for example, the redevelopment of Limerick Prison is due for completion and expected to be operational in the second half of 2021.[162] This will provide for an additional 90 spaces for male prisoners in Limerick prisons and a total of 40 spaces for female prisoners, as well as eight transition or independent living units for females.[163] This will result in an increase in the size of Limerick Prison.

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 4

Indicator S4.1: Maximum prison population of prisons.[164]

Prison Size Standard met
Cloverhill 431 X
Cork 296 X
Limerick (Male) 210
Limerick (Female) 28
Midlands 870 X
Mountjoy (Female) 105
Mountjoy (Male) 755 X
Portlaoise 291 X
Wheatfield 550 X
Arbour Hill 138
Castlerea 340 X
Loughan House 140
Shelton Abbey 115


Only six prisons meet the ideal standard maximum size of 250. However, two of these are women’s prisons and two are open prisons; arguably, given the particular cohort and type of prison concerned, these should be even smaller in size. The only other prisons that currently meet the target are Arbour Hill and Limerick Prison (male section). By comparison, in Norway, the average prison size is 70 and the smallest prison size caters for 15 prisoners.[165]

Status of Standard 4: No change

Progressive Practice:


Rescaled is a social movement launched in April 2019 advocating for small-scale detention in Europe. The aim of Rescaled is to work towards replacing prisons and support the implementation of detention houses. The project’s vision identifies that replacing prisons with detention houses would greatly improve the reintegration of prisoners, with people remaining members of the community (rather than being placed in a closed prison). It provides a three-step argument for detention houses, summarised below.[166]

  1. Small scale: This allows for a more tailored approach, providing more opportunities for prisoners to take responsibility and engage with their community.
  2. Differentiation: Prisoners are placed in the appropriate security level and offered the most suitable programmes.
  3. Community reintegration: It is a two way interaction between community and the detention house. Prisoners can make use of the services provided in the community where detention has an added value for the local community.

Actions required:

Action 4.1: The Department of Justice and Equality and the IPS should consider piloting a small detention house, and match this with a reduction in capacity of the current closed prison estate.


Irish Penal Reform Trust


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