New Limerick Women’s Prison does away with ‘brutality and inhumanity’

The revamped Limerick Women’s Prison does away with the “brutality and humanity” that underpinned Irish penal policy in years gone by, a former Governor of Mountjoy has said. 

Women incarcerated in the jail will have access to a gym, a hairdresser and ensuite accommodation.

Some have described this as ‘state of the art’ living, but John Lonergan believes this is misleading given the restrictions prison life places on those behind bars.


“Prisons are never ‘state of the art’ anything,” he told Lunchtime Live. 

“Prisons are prisons and there’s a wall around it and people are locked up even in a ‘state of the art’ facility.

“They’re still locked up 16, 17, 18 hours a day, seven days a week for the duration of their sentence.

“They’re separated and restricted in almost every element of life.”


Mr Lonergan described the former Limerick Prison as a “horrible old place” for inmates to spend their sentence.

“It was out of date; out of its time,” he said.

“It’s about time that a new facility was provided [that will] provide a decent living facility for women in prison – and some facilities like a hairdressing salon.

“That’s all in order to help people to cope with imprisonment and to live and to feel better about themselves.”

A prisoner.

Mr Lonergan said the penal system has evolved from emphasising punishment to a more rehabilitative model.

“Everyone remembers the old days and the industrial schools and reformatory schools and, indeed, prison,” he said.

“The philosophy underpinning them was brutality and inhumanity – and everyone rejected that over the years.

“Currently, people say, ‘That was a horrible time’ and we don’t want to replicate that in 2023.

“There’s a very small number of women in prison – less than 200.

“One of things I’ve always said is women always bring all their personal and family difficulties into prison with them, while men usually leave their family difficulties and problems outside.”


One Lunchtime Live caller, also named John, said he did not “expect people to be flogged to death” but thought prison still had to be a tough place to spend time.

“Sure, why don’t we all go to prison?” he said.

“We go in and get our hair done and our nails done and whatever we like – we’ll get a false tan maybe while we’re in there.

“He says, ‘They might learn a trade that they’re interested in.’

“If they were interested in the first place, they might not be robbing in the first place.”

Last year, there were 4,178 people in prison in Ireland.

Main image: Outside Limerick Prison. Picture by: Irish Prison Service


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