The Prison Service is seeking to release more than 200 prisoners on a temporary basis to reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading to the country's jails.

The Prison System is currently overcrowded and the Prison Service says an outbreak of Covid-19 in the prisons would pose significant challenges for staff and vulnerable inmates.

The Prison authorities are in discussions with the Department of Justice and seeking the approval of the Minister for the special measure.

The Director of the Prison Service Caron McCaffrey says they will not be releasing anyone who is deemed to pose a threat to public safety.

There are more than 4,700 people in the country’s thirteen prisons which only have four thousand three hundred beds.

All are full, Limerick and Cork are overcrowded and last night 63 inmates slept on mattresses.

At present there is no case of the coronavirus in prisons but the Prison Service says such an occurrence would present significant challenges for prison management in terms of controlling the spread among other inmates and staff.

Prisoners are considered a particularly vulnerable group as many have compromised immune systems due to health and addiction issues.

The Prison Service is therefore seeking to mitigate the risk of an outbreak in the prisons by releasing more than 200 inmates in what it says will be "a measured, managed and planned way."

All those eligible are serving sentences of less than twelve months for non violent offences.

The prison service says murderers, sex offenders, terrorists, gangsters or other violent offenders will not be considered.

Ms McCaffrey has also stressed that this is a short term measure and that anyone granted temporary release can also be recalled if they misbehave.

The Prison Service says it is in discussions with the Department of Justice on this and other contingency measures to reduce the numbers in custody and is seeking the Minister’s approval before implementing this special measure.

The Prison Service is also introducing visiting restrictions but says it does not want to cancel visits because it realises their importance for inmates and their families and wants to implement better and safer controls.