ASYLUM-seekers are being held in jail for up to three months before their deportation, adding to overcrowding in prisons.

The Department of Justice said that, over the past 18 months, nearly 130 people have been imprisoned while arrangements were made for their deportation. The average time spent in custody was 24 days, but some people spent up to 105 days behind bars.

"A total of 127 such persons were detained [since January 2008], for periods ranging from two to 105 days," the department said.

In the past 12 months, 85 people, including 74 failed asylum-seekers, were held in custody pending deportation. Most were held in Cloverhill, the remand prison, but others were forced to spend time in Mountjoy, Limerick prison, Castlerea and Cork.

Of the 85 people detained, 17 were women; they were held in the Dóchas Centre at Mountjoy, which suffers from chronic overcrowding.

In 2008, a total of 88 people, including 75 failed asylum-seekers, were kept in prison. Again, the majority were held at Cloverhill prison with others kept in Wheatfield, Limerick, Cork and Mountjoy. Nineteen were women, who were imprisoned in Dóchas.

Last year, a total of 162 deportation orders were executed, a slight increase on the previous year, which had been the lowest in a decade.

The department said another 271 non-nationals left the state under what are known as transfer orders under Dublin II regulations. These are people who claimed asylum in Ireland but who were later found to have sought refugee status in another EU state.

Aside from the deportations, another 561 people agreed to "return home voluntarily", an increase on previous years.