Prison conditions

Introduction

If you are detained in an Irish prison, you are entitled to a certain standard of treatment. Section 35 of the Prisons Act 2007 provides for the making of prison rules and outlines prisoners’ entitlements with respect to matters such as diet, education, employment and discipline.

This document outlines the conditions and treatment you can expect to receive in an Irish prison. It includes information on:

  • Basic provisions
  • Social activities
  • Medical services
  • Education services
  • Vocational training; and
  • Discipline and correction

You can read more about the structure and operation of the prison system in Ireland. You can also access further information on prisoners’ rights.

Basic provisions

Diet

You should receive a healthy, well-balanced and reasonably varied diet. If you are a member of a particular religion or culture, or if a doctor recommends that you follow a special diet for medical reasons, the Governor will try, as far as possible, to accommodate your dietary requirements.

Hygiene, clothing and bedding

You do not have to wear a uniform but are supplied with a range of clothing. Changes of underclothing are supplied to all prisoners. You may, at the discretion of the Governor, be permitted to wear your own clothing provided it is kept clean and is sufficient to keep you warm and healthy.

All prisoners are entitled to wash daily and shower at least once per week. Cell bedding must be adequate for warmth and health and you should not be required to sleep without a mattress.

Adequate sanitary and washing facilities should generally be provided your cell or room. Where this is not possible, a prisoner must have reasonable access to sanitary and washing facilities.

Social activities

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, library facilities, gym activities and outdoor games. Specially trained prison officers provide gym instruction and supervision.

Visits

The Prison Rules governs visiting arrangements. Under these rules:

  • A sentenced prisoner over 18 is generally entitled 1 visit per week of at least 30 minutes duration
  • A sentenced prisoner under 18 is generally entitled 2 visits per week of at least 30 minutes duration
  • A remand prisoner is generally 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

Additional or longer visits may also be permitted. Virtual visits may also be allowed where facilities are available.

You can read more about visiting someone in prison, including how the above entitlements are affected by Covid-19 restrictions.

Letters

Prisoners are 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 officer with the exception of legal correspondence, which can be opened in the presence of the prisoner to confirm its status and then placed back into the envelope. The Governor may also suspend your entitlement to send some types of letters for a period of up to 60-days as punishment for a breach of prison discipline (see ‘Discipline and correction’ below).

Telephone calls

  • A sentenced prisoner over 18 is generally entitled 1 telephone call per week
  • A sentenced prisoner under 18 is generally entitled 2 telephone calls per week
  • A remand prisoner is generally entitled to 5 telephone calls per week to family and friends and as many calls are necessary to regulate his property or business affairs

Additional or longer phone calls may also be permitted.

Chaplaincy service

A chaplaincy service is available in each prison. 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.

Medical services

The prison healthcare service provides prisoners with access to the same range of healthcare services as are available under the Medical Card scheme in the community.

A range of services are provided to prisoners, including:

Primary Care

Each prison has a minimum of one prison doctor who attends the prison Monday to Friday and also provides an out of hours on call service. Nurses provide 24 hour cover in all closed prisons. The doctor and nurses are the first point of contact for prisoners seeking medical treatment and provide services similar to those available in a GP practice in the community. Prisoners can request to see the doctor or nurses at any time.

Pharmacy Service

General pharmacy services are provided in all prisons on the basis of a contract with a local community pharmacy. Some prisoners, following a risk assessment, may be deemed eligible for In-possession (I/P) pharmacy services. Under this system, prisoners are provided a week’s supply of their dispensed medication and assume full responsibility for the storage, management and self-administration of the medicine. This I/P scheme is intended to support prisoners in preparing for their release and re-integration into society.

Mental Health Services

All prisoners are medically assessed on committal to prison. This includes a mental health assessment which can be used to develop an individual care plan. You may also be referred to a forensic psychiatrist who may make certain recommendations to the Governor for the care of the prisoner.

Drug Treatment Services

The Irish Prison Service operates a range of medical and rehabilitative services for prisoners with substance abuse issues, including methadone substation treatment, psychosocial services, and ‘work and training’ programmes.

Dental Services

The dental services provided to prisoners are the same as those available under the Medical Card scheme and include treatments such as a dental examination, 2 fillings in each calendar year and extractions as necessary. You can ask to be placed on the list for the dentist and, in some instances, the prison doctor or nurse may refer you.

Education services

The Irish Prison Service works in partnership with several educational agencies to provide a broad programme of education. Prisoners may partake in a range of training opportunities, from basic literacy and numeracy classes to Open University degrees.

The education curriculum includes physical education, health education, social education (with subjects such as Home Economics) and creative activities (art, drama, music and writing). Prisoners may also study the state curriculum in preparation to undertake Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examination.

You can access further information on prison education services on the Irish Prison Service website.

Vocational training

The Irish Prison Service places a strong emphasis on the provision of vocational training activities for prisoners. Training activities are chosen to give as much employment as possible in prison and to enable prisoners to acquire skills which help them to secure employment on release.

A wide range of training workshops operate within the institutions, including: printing, computers, braille, woodwork, metalwork, construction, craft and horticulture. In addition, essential services for the prisons, such as catering, laundry services and industrial cleaning are provided through work training.

You can find out more about vocational training opportunities on the Irish Prison Service website.

Discipline and correction

Remission

Remission is the complete ending of a sentence at a reduced point.

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 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.

Read more about being released from prison.

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 maximum sanctions include:

  • 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, of receiving visits, of sending most letters, of making phone calls or possessing specified items or using other privileges
  • 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.

Further information

Irish Prison Service

IDA Business Park
Ballinalee Road
Longford
Co. Longford
Ireland

Tel: (043) 333 5100
Fax: (043) 333 5371

Department of Justice

94 St. Stephen's Green
Dublin 2
Ireland

Tel: (01) 602 8202
Locall: 1890 221 227
Fax: (01) 661 5461

Page edited: 27 November 2020