Prison system in Ireland
The Minister for Justice is responsible for the prison system in Ireland. However, the Irish Prison Service, an executive office established within the Department of Justice, controls the day-to-day operation of Irish prisons.
The Irish Prison Service is responsible for the safe and secure custody of all those committed to it by the courts. This includes people held on remand, detained on immigration matters and sentenced to imprisonment.
In addition to ensuring that convicted people properly serve their sentences, the Irish Prison Service is responsible for providing prisoners with appropriate resources and opportunities to reduce the likelihood of their reoffending and assisting prisoners with reintegrating into their communities upon release.
This document provides practical information about the structure and operation of the prison system in Ireland. It includes information on:
- Prison facilities in Ireland
- Committal and admission procedures
- Prison transfers
- Supports for families of prisoners; and
- Detention on immigration matters
The Irish Prison Service deals exclusively with offenders who are 18 years of age or over. You can find out more about children and the criminal justice system in Ireland.
Section 35 of the Prisons Act 2007 provides for the making of rules for the regulation and good government of prisons. Prison Rules 2007 (SI 252/2007), as amended, sets out, among other things, the rules in relation to admissions and transfers.
Prison facilities in Ireland
There are 12 institutions in the Irish prison system. Ten are traditional closed facilities with both internal and perimeter security, while 2 are open centres with reduced security measures.
Open prisons operate a regime based on the voluntarily accepted discipline of the prisoners. By providing prisoners with more independence and responsibility, as well as increased access to educational, employment and developmental opportunities, open centres are designed to prepare offenders for their reintegration into civil society upon release.
Information on individual prisons is included below.
A closed, medium security prison for adult males. The prisoner profile is largely made up of long term sentenced prisoners.
A closed, medium security prison for adult males. It is the committal prison for remand and sentenced prisoners in Connacht and also accommodates committals from counties Cavan, Donegal and Longford.
A closed, medium security prison for adult males, which primarily caters for remand prisoners committed from the Leinster area.
A closed, medium security prison for adult males. It is the committal prison for counties Cork, Kerry and Waterford.
A closed, medium security prison for females aged 18 years and over in the Mountjoy Prison facility. It is the committal prison for females committed on remand or sentenced from all Courts outside the Munster area.
A closed, medium security prison for adult males and females. It is the committal prison for males for counties Clare, Limerick and Tipperary and for females for all six Munster counties.
An open, low security prison for males aged 18 years and over who are regarded as requiring lower levels of security.
A closed, medium security prison for adult males. It is the committal prison for counties Carlow, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly and Westmeath.
A closed, medium security prison for adult males. It is the main committal prison for Dublin city and county.
A closed high security prison for adult males. It is the committal prison for those sent to custody from the Special Criminal Court and prisoners accommodated here include those linked with subversive crime.
An open, low security prison for males aged 19 years and over who are regarded as requiring lower levels of security.
A closed, medium security place of detention for adult males and for sentenced 17-year-old juveniles.
Admission and committal to prison
If you have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to a term of imprisonment, or if you have been remanded in custody pending a further court appearance, a judge will issue a warrant addressed to the Governor of one of the committal prisons listed above.
The type of prison to which you are committed depends on multiple factors, including:
- The nature of your offence and your previous offending record
- Your previous behaviour in custody and the level of risk you are understood to pose to other prisoners and prison staff
- Prison availability
- Security concerns in relation to you
- Access relevant rehabilitation facilities; and
- Proximity to your family home
You can only be committed to prison with a valid committal order from a court, which the Garda or prison officer must give to the relevant prison Governor.
In most cases, upon being committed to prison, you will be brought the reception area where your name, address, date of birth, nearest relative, occupation, religion and other details will be recorded. If you have been convicted of a crime, your photograph, fingerprints and palm prints will be taken and sent to the Gardaí.
You will be searched by a prison officer of your own gender. Your decency, privacy and dignity should be respected during the search. If you refuse to be searched, the prison officer may only use such force as is reasonably necessary to carry out the search.
A list of all your personal property will be made when you enter prison. Any banned items, such as prohibited substances or weapons, will be confiscated, while valuable items, such as jewellery or mobile phones, will be noted and stored safely in the General Office for return upon your release.
Any money taken from you will be lodged in an account in the General Office. Friends and family members can put money into this account for you and they will be given a receipt. If you do not spend all your money in prison you will get it back when you are released.
You will be weighed and measured. Details of any marks or scars on your body should be put in your personal prison file. You will be asked to disclose any history of substance abuse or mental illness in order that appropriate supports can be arranged. If you believe it is not safe for you to be among other prisoners or, if you wish to be placed on protection, you should tell the prison staff.
The Garda or prison officer who brought you to prison must give the Governor any medication or prescriptions belonging to you and pass on any information they have about your health. If possible, you should be examined by a doctor on the day of your committal, or as soon as possible thereafter.
The prison Governor, or somebody who represents them, should meet with you within 24 hours of your committal to prison. You should be provided with a booklet explaining the prison’s rules, your rights and entitlements as a prisoner, and your responsibilities to prison staff and other inmates. If you are a foreign national, you should, if possible, be given a copy of the prison booklet in a language you can understand.
You will be allowed to tell a family member or some other person where you are as soon as possible.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Irish Penal Reform Trust have published detailed guidance (PDF) on your rights as a prisoner, including information on what you can expect upon being committed to prison.
When you are sentenced to prison, or remanded in custody pending a further court appearance, you will be committed to the prison named for the court area where you appeared. However, the prison where you are to serve your sentence may be changed at any time by the Minister for Justice.
As a prisoner, you have no legal right to serve your sentence in a prison of your choice. However, you can apply to the Governor for a transfer to another prison if you have a good reason. In most cases, the Prison Service will try to make sure you are in a prison as close to your home as possible.
If you are transferred from one prison to another, you should be allowed, as soon as reasonably possible, to let a family member or friend know that you have been transferred.
If you are a foreign national serving a term of imprisonment in Ireland, you can apply for a transfer to complete your sentence in your home state.
Ireland is a signatory to the Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. The Treaty, ratified by 66 countries including 19 states outside the Council of Europe, provides for the extradition of non-nationals convicted of a criminal offence to their home country. If a country is not a signatory to the Convention a transfer will require a bilateral agreement between the two states.
For a transfer to take place, there must be 3-way consent. The prisoner, the sentencing country and the prisoner’s home country must all agree to the transfer.
Additionally, you must meet 4 conditions to be eligible to apply for a transfer:
- You must be regarded as a national of the country you wish to be transferred to.
- Your sentence must be final. You cannot apply for transfer before you face trial or until after all appeals have been heard.
- There must be at least 6 months left to serve on your sentence.
- The crime for which you were convicted must also be recognised as a crime in your home country.
An application for a transfer usually begins with a prisoner informing the prison authorities of their desire to complete their sentence in their home country. Alternatively, you can communicate this wish directly to the Minister for Justice. The Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas have produced a valuable factsheet (PDF) on the process of applying for an international transfer.
The legal complexity of the international transfer process is such that most applications take a long time. The Minister for Justice produces an annual report (PDF) on the operation of the transfer scheme which shows the number of prisoners transferred in and out of Ireland each year.
Supports for families of prisoners
While there is no national organisation responsible for providing information or support to families affected by imprisonment, there are several voluntary organisations that perform such a function:
- The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is a non-governmental organisation that campaigns for the rights of prisoners. The IPRT does not provide a direct service; however, you can access a range of helpful publications, including information for prisoners and their families.
- Care After Prison is a charity organisation which provides support for offenders, their families and victims of crime. They also work closely with families and loved ones of people under sentence and awaiting sentencing.
- The Childhood Development Initiative (CDI) is a Tallaght-based organisation which works to improve outcomes for children, families and communities in Tallaght and throughout Ireland.
- St Nicholas Trust is a Cork-based organisation that offers help and support to people affected by imprisonment.
- Bedford Row Family Project is based in Limerick and supports family members affected by the imprisonment. It works towards the re-integration of ex-prisoners into their families, their communities, and society in general.
In general, asylum seekers and irregular immigrants who may be detained under Irish law include:
- Non-nationals who arrive in Ireland and are refused leave to land
- International protection applicants who are deemed to be in one of the categories set out in Section 20(1) International Protection Act (see below)
- International protection applicants being transferred to another EU Member State under the Dublin Regulation who are at risk of absconding
- Non-nationals with outstanding deportation orders; and
- Non-nationals awaiting trial for a criminal immigration-related offence
Section 20(1) of the International Protection Act 2015 provides that international protection applicants may be detained by an immigration officer or a member of Garda Síochána and arrested without warrant if it is suspected that they:
- Pose a threat to public security or public order in Ireland
- Have committed a serious non-political crime outside Ireland
- Have not made reasonable efforts to establish their identity (including non-compliance with the requirement to provide fingerprints)
- Intend to leave Ireland without lawful authority enter another state
- Have acted or plan to act in a manner that would undermine the system for granting persons international protection in Ireland or any arrangement relating to the Common Travel Area
- Have, without reasonable excuse, destroyed identity or travel documents or is in possession of fake identity documents
There are currently no specialised detention centres for asylum seekers or irregular migrants in Ireland. If detained under section 20(1) of the International Protection Act 2015, you can be detained at a Garda station or Cloverhill Prison. If detained at Cloverhill Prison, you should be separated from the general prison population. Persons under 18 years of age cannot be detained.
There is no maximum duration for the detention of protection applicants set out in the International Protection Act. Section 20(12) indicates that a District Court judge can, provided the relevant criteria are met, apply for detention for consecutive 21-day time periods with no upper limit.
The Irish Refugee Council has published detailed guidance and information on immigration detention procedures in Ireland. You can also read more about refugee status and leave to remain, the asylum process in Ireland and the services available to asylum seekers in Ireland.