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Prisoners' Rights


There is no list, or charter of rights while someone is in prison. Instead, the courts consider prisoners' rights as individual cases come before them. The following, is an overview of how prison affects the daily life and associated rights of an individual.


Right to Marry

The courts have not yet decided that you have a right to marry while you are in prison.

Right to Procreate and/or Conjugal Rights

You do not have a right to temporary release or conjugal visits.

If you are married, you have a right to communicate with your spouse, but without privacy. You also have a right to take some part in the education of your children.

Right to Vote

You have a right to be registered in the political constituency where you would normally live if you were not in prison. However, you have no right to be given physical access to a ballot box by temporary release.

If you happen to be on parole or temporary release at the time of an election, you are free to vote where you are registered.

Your rights if you are on remand are the same as if you were a convicted prisoner.

The Electoral (Amendment) Act 2006 provides procedures that enable prisoners to vote by post. If you are in prison, you can register for a postal vote in the area that you would otherwise be living in. If you are already registered to vote in that area and wish to be able to vote from prison then you should fill out a form called Form RFG. If you are not already on the register then you should complete Form RFA4 as well. These application forms are available in all prisons and should be sent to the local authority for your area.

Right to Associate

You have a right to communicate with other prisoners while you are working or at recreation. However, you must communicate in an orderly way and you cannot impede the other prisoners' work.

The governor of the prison can take away this right in the interest of good order in the prison.

Right to Privacy

You have a limited right to privacy. For example, you may not to be stripped, searched or bathed in the presence of another prisoner and female prisoners may only be searched by female officers. In addition, you have the right to be exposed to the public view as little as possible while being removed from or to prison.

However, you may be photographed and you may be required to wear a uniform. Your right to privacy may be limited for security reasons. For example, you do not have a right to toilet doors that can be locked from the inside.

Rights Relating to Searches and Drug Testing

You may be searched. However, the search must be done with due regard to your decency and self-respect and in as appropriate a manner as possible. A search can only be carried out for a genuine purpose, e.g., to find forbidden items. A search cannot be carried out simply to harass you.

Right to Freedom from Discrimination

You have the same right to freedom from discrimination as any other citizen.

Right to Recreation

If you are involved in indoor work at the prison, you are entitled to daily walking exercises in the open air for one hour or more.

You must be provided with recreational facilities so that there can be no danger to your physical, mental and emotional health.

Right to Property

You do not have the right to keep money in prison. All the money and effects you brought into the prison or sent to the prison for your use, which you are not allowed to keep, will be placed in the custody of the governor, who will keep an inventory of them.

Right to Bodily Integrity

You have a limited right to bodily integrity. For example, a female prisoner's hair cannot be cut without her consent.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

You do not have a right to run a business or earn a livelihood from prison.

Right to Freedom of Religion

You do have a right to practice your religion. The prison will provide for basic religious needs but you do not have a right to special requirements. For example, in a 1979 case, it was decided that a Muslim prisoner did not have a right to a special pork-free diet, a Koran and a prayer-mat.

When you arrive in prison, you will state your religious denomination and if there is no service provided in the prison for your denomination, the prison will allow a religious instructor visit you.

This area is also considered in Prison Conditions.

Right to Food

While you are in prison, you must be given a healthy, well balanced diet. Menus rotate on a 14, 21 or 28 day cycle, depending on the institution involved. The prison medical officer can approve a change of diet.

Right to Education

You have a right to education while you are in prison.

This area is also considered in Prison Education Services.

Right to Employment

The governor of each prison is under a duty to promote the useful employment and industrial training of the prisoners.

This area is also considered in Work and Training.

Rights of Mothers

The child of a female prisoner can be taken into the prison, provided it is "at the breast". The child may not be taken from its mother until the medical officer certifies that it is in a fit condition to be removed.

When the child reaches nine months old, the medical officer must decide if it should be taken out of prison. Except in special circumstances, the child will not be kept in the prison after it is one year old.

Before taking a child out of prison, the governor must find out whether the child's relatives are willing and able to take it. If the governor cannot find a relative to take the child, it will be placed in a home.

Right to Smoke

Prisoners do not have a right to smoke except in accordance with rules laid down by the governor with the approval of the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Further information

You can find further information on prisoner's rights in the publication, Know Your Rights: Your Rights as a Prisoner produced jointly by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Irish Penal Reform Trust.

Page edited: 23 August 2012



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