Prison conditions

Introduction

Prison rules regulate the operation of prisons. Section 35 of the Prisons Act 2007 provides for the making of prison rules which may cover the treatment of prisoners, including their diets, clothing, maintenance, employment, instruction, discipline and correction. Prison Rules (SI No. 252/2007) came into operation in October 2007. They have been amended more recently to provide for, among other things, investigation of serious complaints.

Rules

Diet

A healthy, well-balanced and reasonably varied diet is supplied to all persons in custody in accordance with prison regulations. Where possible, provision is made to enable a prisoner to observe the dietary practices of their religion or culture. A change of diet can be obtained following approval of the prison medical officer.

Hygiene, clothing and bedding

Prisoners are not required to wear a uniform but are supplied with a range of clothing in fashion in the community. Clothing may be changed twice weekly. In certain circumstances, a prisoner may wear their own clothing. If permission for this is given, the prisoner is required to have sufficient clothing to allow for a change. Changes of underclothing are supplied to all prisoners.

All prisoners are entitled to wash daily and shower at least once per week. Cell bedding must be adequate for warmth and health, and is usually comprised of bed mattress, blanket, pillow and sheets.

Recreation

Prisoners are free to take part in recreation at weekends, in the evenings and when not attending work or educational classes. Facilities include television, table games and library facilities.

There is increasing use being made of gym activities and outdoor games. Specially trained prison officers provide gym instruction and supervision.

Visits

The Prison Rules provides the legislation for visiting arrangements. Under these rules, a sentenced prisoner is entitled 1 visit per week of at least 30 minutes duration. A remand prisoner is entitled to 1 visit of at least 15 minutes duration on each of 3 days of the week and where possible, on each of 6 days. In practice, additional or longer visits may be granted where circumstances permit at the Governor's discretion.

The Governor can restrict the number of visitors at the one time to 3 per offender. The majority of visits are supervised in sight and in hearing, of prison staff to ensure good order and security and to prevent the passing of contraband. The frequency and length of visits can vary according to the type of institution. There are also local procedures individual to each institution concerning, for example, searches, persons allowed visit and opening hours.

Letters

Prisoners are generally entitled to send letters to their family or friends and there is no limit to the number of letters that may be received from them. A prisoner on remand can also send as many letters as is necessary to manage their property or business affairs. A prisoner who sends more than 7 letters during a week may be required to pay for postage and writing materials in respect of the extra letters.

All incoming and outgoing mail may be opened and checked by a prison office with the exception of legal correspondence, which is opened to confirm its status and then placed back into the envelope.

Rehabilitative measures

The Prison Service encourage prisoners to engage with the therapeutic services during their period of imprisonment in order to reduce the risk of them re-offending on release and to help offenders live constructive and meaningful lives on the outside. There is a wide range of services available including:

  • Education – prisoners may take classes ranging from basic literacy to Open University degrees
  • Drug treatment – prisoners have access to a range of medical and rehabilitative services
  • Psychology – provides mental health services and helps offenders address factors that put them at risk of re-offending
  • Work and training – training activities are chosen to give as much employment as possible in prison and to give opportunities to acquire skills which help secure employment on release

There is further information on the range of services on the Irish Prison Service website.

Chaplaincy service

A chaplaincy service is available in each prison and place of detention. Full-time Roman Catholic chaplains are attached to most prisons and places of detention. Chaplains of other denominations come to the prisons on a part-time or visiting basis. Local Muslim religious leaders attend to the needs of Muslim prisoners.

The primary function of the chaplaincy service is to make religious services available to prisoners and to offer support and assistance in their human and spiritual development.

Remission

The vast majority of persons serving sentences are entitled to remission at a rate of one quarter, providing that they are of good behaviour for the duration of their sentence. In practice, this means that a person sentenced to 4 years’ imprisonment will be expected to serve 3 years in custody. Prisoners who cannot benefit from remission include those serving life sentences.

The Minister for Justice and Equality can grant remission of up to one third where a prisoner has shown further good conduct by engaging in authorised structured activities and the Minister is satisfied that, as a result, the prisoner is less likely to re-offend and will be better able to reintegrate into the community.

Punishments

Section 13 of the Prisons Act 2007 lists sanctions that may be imposed if a prisoner is found to have breached prison discipline. The possible sanctions include:

  • A reprimand
  • Confinement in a cell for a period not exceeding 3 days
  • Suspension for up to 60 days of involvement in specified authorised structured activities or recreational activities
  • Loss of up to 14 days’ remission

Complaints

Prisoners have the right to make a complaint to any prison staff member either verbally or in writing at any time. Under the Irish Prison Service Complaints System there are 6 categories of complaints depending on the seriousness of the complaint. The most serious is Category A which covers complaints alleging assault, use of excessive force, ill treatment, racial abuse, discrimination, intimidation or threats. Category A complaints are investigated by people from outside the Prison Service.

Visiting committees

A visiting committee for a prison is an independent statutory watchdog on behalf of the public to supervise the treatment of prisoners.

While in prison, prisoners have free access to the visiting committees and may make complaints about how they are being treated to them. Each committee makes an annual report to the Minister.

Page edited: 9 July 2015