A District court Judge has accused the governor of Dóchas of colluding with the director of the Irish Prison Service to hide the reasons behind her policy of temporary release, which saw a serial thief serve just three days of a six-month sentence.
"You and your colleagues should be before a Dáil committee to explain this policy," Judge Seamus Hughes told governor of the women’s prison Mary O'Connor in the District Court in Athlone today.
Ms O'Connor explained it was a simple matter of capacity.
She said that although her facility had a 40% increase in cell numbers last year - from 72 to 105 - there were 130 inmates in the prison on the day she chose to give a temporary release to a women form the Athlone area.
"Are you at full capacity?" asked the judge. "All the time," said Ms O'Connor.
Judge Hughes had sought Ms O'Connor's appearance on 23 October after discovering a local woman - a drug addict - was back on the streets of Athlone to immediately re-offend just three days after being sentenced to six months jail.
Judge Hughes said that in his 25 years as solicitor and judge: "I had never heard the like of it."
"I was shocked and bewildered. I want to know what effective deterrents are available to me, and I want to know what's going on in Dóchas."
"You wouldn't take on the Circuit or the High Court so quick. I want to know how much respect the District Court gets, and I want to know why property crimes are being treated as victimless crimes when they're not", he said.
"Ms O'Connor, please excuse me if I have over-exercised myself, but please explain to me this practice.
"The community that's paying your wages want to know why this woman just serves three days of a six month sentence. That's just 2.2%," he pointed out.
Ms O'Connor explained the capacity difficulties and told the court: "The Irish Prison Service looks primarily at the charges to find the suitability of candidate for release", and also if they have somewhere to live.
"Can you be at capacity on violent crimes? Are you telling me we are reaching a situation that females who commit non-violent offences are going to be released because of capacity restraint on you?", the judge asked.
"This carousel, or revolving-door policy, this is no protection to the people of Athlone", he said.
"What amazes me is there's no public discussion on this to provide the governor with the places she needs," said the judge.
However, Ms O'Connor said she did not think more prison places was the solution, and she felt that "a lot of women in prison should not be there.
"We should have more support in the community, more addiction counsellors", she said.