It turned out: more than a third of all NI prisoners are waiting for their day in court

New figures show that more than a third of Northern Ireland’s prisoners are in custody or awaiting trial.

Department of Justice (DoJ) data shows that as of June 13, there were a total of 1,636 prisoners in our prisons. Of these, 601 people are in custody or awaiting trial – 36.7%.

It costs about £44,956 a year to keep one prisoner here. This means that looking after the current number of inmates in custody will cost just over £27m a year. In the UK, the average cost per prisoner is around £28,000 per year.

The numbers also show a huge disparity when it comes to male and female prisoners.

As of June 13, there were 30 female prisoners in custody or awaiting trial, representing 1.8% of the total number of female prisoners. There were 571 male prisoners in custody or awaiting trial, representing 34.9% of the total number of male prisoners.

UUP leader Doug Beatty said: “I have constantly stressed my concerns about the pace at which our justice system is moving.

“There is no doubt that we need to learn from other sources and remove blockages in the system.”

DUP’s Diane Dodds added: “These delays in justice affect not only those people who are incarcerated in prison, but victims of crime across Northern Ireland. A delay in justice means a denial of justice, and the numbers are a direct result of the delay and backlog in our system. The numbers are much higher than in any other region of the United Kingdom and there does not appear to have been any real movement in that direction.

“It’s not enough for the Minister to just say that she is trying her best. Plans are needed on how she intends to handle this and see the numbers drop.”

The Department of Justice was contacted for comment.

As of 1 June, there were just under 6,400 criminal cases in Northern Ireland, in which the prosecutor’s office decided to open a criminal case, but the date for the hearing in court has not yet been set.

Regarding civil cases, the Department of Justice stated: “It is not possible to accurately determine the number of cases pending hearing in civil cases in the same way as in criminal cases.

“Civil cases are brought to court and may remain dormant for several reasons, including negotiation between the parties, failure by attorneys to tell the clerk that the cases have been settled, or simply because the parties have decided not to proceed with the case.”

The news comes after it was revealed that more than 70 sex crime cases had been pending in court for over five years.

Data obtained by the BBC shows that as of May, almost 2,000 sex crime cases were going through the system. Of these, more than 180 did not appear in court three years after the case became active, and 73 defendants have been waiting for their hearing for more than five years.

It was revealed last December that the Justice Department was paying more than £500,000 a year to hold female prisoners for lack of suitable bail addresses.

Thirteen women from Hydebank Wood Detention Center were eligible for bail pending trial but were unable to obtain a suitable bail address.

Former SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said at the time that Communities Minister Deidra Hardji and Justice Minister Naomi Long were “failing” these women.

“Prison should be the last resort when a crime justifies it, it should not be used as a haven for those who cannot get a bail address,” she said.

“We need to ensure that proper housing and amenities are available so that no one is held in prison without a good reason.

“I believe that prison should be used when it deserves it, but it’s a shame that these women are stuck in prison because they have nowhere to go.”