Ireland's prime minister has offered sympathy after an official report held the state responsible for sending many women and girls to the institutions collectively known as Magdalene Laundries, where they were subjected to a harsh regime of intimidation, prayer and unpaid work.

The workhouses, run by Catholic nuns, have been accused of treating inmates who were sometimes put in their care for sexual misdemeanours or simply for illegitimacy, like "slaves" for decades of the 20th century.

Tuesday's report analysing Magdalene Laundries found state authorities committed about one-quarter of 10,012 women to the workhouses from 1922 to 1996, often in response to school truancy or homelessness.

Irish governments had in the past insisted the laundries operated purely privately.

Following the release of the report, Enda Kenny, Irish prime minister, said: "To those residents who went through the Magdalene Laundries in a variety of ways, 26 percent of the time from state involvement, I am sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment."

The report by an inter-departmental committee said found that 15 percent lived in the workhouses for more than five years, and police caught and returned women who fled.

They endured 12-hour workdays of washing and ironing.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies