The Irish government will face tough questions today over the state of Irish prisons.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva will also examine the governments record on the rights of those detained by the State.

According to a report in the Irish Times it's the first time Ireland has been asked about its record by the UN committee and they are also expected to ask about conditions in prisons, the treatment of asylum seekers and of the women who were sent to work in the Magdalene laundries.

Prior to their meeting with government representatives today the committee was briefed by the Irish Human Rights Commission and by other human rights groups.

Conditions in prisons have been a longstanding concern for the IHRC who have recommended an overhaul of penal policy, including the immediate end to overcrowding, and improvements in the protection of the human rights of people with mental illness who are detained.

New figures from the Department of Justice quoted in the Irish Times show there were 4,490 prisoners in custody and 835 on temporary release last week, more than double the total in 1997.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter told the Irish Parliament this week that measures were being taken to upgrade prison capacity and to provide alternatives to custody.

Interior of Dublin's Mount Joy prison