ASYLUM seekers are being held in jail for up to three months prior to their deportation, it has emerged, 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 removal from the state.

The average length of time spent in custody was 24 days, they said, but some individuals had been forced to spend up to 105 days behind bars.

The Department of Justice said: "A total of 127 such persons were detained during this timeframe [January 2008 to date], for periods ranging from two to 105 days."

During the past 12 months, a total of 85 people – including 74 failed asylum seekers – were held in custody pending deportation. The vast majority were held in Cloverhill, the remand prison, but a number of other people were forced to spend time at Mountjoy Prison, Limerick Prison, Castlerea and Cork.

Of the 85 people detained pending deportation, 17 were women who were held in the Dochas Centre at Mountjoy, which has been subject to chronic overcrowding.

During 2008, a total of 88 people – including 75 failed asylum seekers – were de­tained in prison while arrangements were made for removal. Again, the vast majority were held at Cloverhill Prison with a handful kept at Wheatfield, Limerick, Cork and Mountjoy. Nineteen were women imprisoned at the Dóchas Centre.

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 of Justice said that another 271 non-nationals had left the state under what are known as transfer orders under Dublin II regulations. These are individuals who arrived in Ireland and claimed asylum but who were subsequently discovered to have sought refugee status in another EU state. Aside from the deportations, another 561 people left Ireland after agreeing to "return home voluntarily", a substantial increase on previous years.