Visiting someone in prison

Introduction

If a member of your family is in prison, visits can help you stay in contact and maintain a healthy relationship. You can also keep in touch by letter and your family member can contact you by telephone.

Prison visits are important to maintain relationships and support the prisoner's mental wellbeing. Stable family relationships and community ties have also been recognised as important factors in helping with the resettlement and reintegration of prisoners in civil society.

This document outlines what you can expect when visiting someone in a prison in Ireland. It includes detail on:

  • How to arrange a visit
  • How visits work; and
  • The rights and entitlements of prisoners

The rules governing prison visits in Ireland are set out in sections 35-50 of Prison Rules, 2007.

You can find out more about the process of requesting a professional visit to a prisoner on the Irish Prison Service website.

COVID-19 updates

Physical visits to all prisons are currently suspended owing to COVID-19.

However, you can continue to arrange video visits using the Irish Prison Service website.

Money transfers to prisoners’ accounts

During COVID-19, there are 3 ways to transfer funds to people in prison. All transactions should be completed within 2 to 5 working days. For general queries about lodging money into a prisoner’s account, you can email PAMSCash@irishprisons.ie.

1. An Post BillPay Card

Your relative or friend in prison must fill in a form nominating someone to whom an An Post BillPay card can be sent and authorising the Irish Prison Service to send that person the card.

Once the nominated person receives the BillPay Card, they can call in to any post office in the State, hand the BillPay Card in at the counter and lodge funds in cash or by debit card.

You will be given a receipt, which you should keep as proof of payment. The maximum transaction is €200. The card may be shared by family members to send funds to the person in custody.

2.Debit card

If you have received the An Post BillPay Card, you can use the website www.mybills.ie to make a payment by debit card.

Payments made by 11pm will usually be in the person in custody’s account the next day.

The maximum transaction is €200. You will receive a receipt by email, which you should keep as proof of payment.

3.Bank transfer

You can also transfer funds from your bank account to that of a friend or relative in prison by bank transfer.

You can do this by using an online banking online facility, or by calling into your bank. The maximum transaction is €200 and any payment in excess of this amount will be returned.

The Prisoner ID Number must be correctly entered into the reference box or the person in custody’s account cannot receive the funds.

How to arrange a visit

A minimum of 48 hours’ notice must be given when requesting a visit to any prison in Ireland.

Visits can be requested online, over the phone or, in some cases, in person at the visitors’ centre. You can access detailed information on requesting a physical visit on the Irish Prison Service website.

When submitting an online request for a physical visit, you must provide the name and PRIS number of the prisoner you wish to visit, as well as your name, address, email and telephone number.

A visit is not confirmed until a formal email is received confirming the date and time of the intended visit from the prison. This should be printed off and brought with you to the prison when visiting.

How visits work

In most cases, a prisoner can nominate at least 6 people who may visit them. If you are not on the list, it is unlikely that you be able to arrange a visit. This is the case irrespective of your relationship to the prisoner, and a prisoner does not have to meet with a visitor.

The practice in most prisons is not to allow more than 3 visitors per prisoner at a time (see ‘COVID-19 updates’ above for further information on current restrictions). There is no limit on the number of children allowed for a visit; however, in the interest of good order and safe and secure custody, the number of children permitted during a visit may be restricted.

Identification

Upon arriving at the prison, you will have to supply details of your name, address and date of birth.

You must also identify the prisoner you are visiting and provide details of your relationship to them.

In order to prove your identity, you must produce valid photographic identification, such as a current passport or driver’s license. Failure to do so may result in refusal of entry to the prison.

Security

Airport-style walk-through detectors and X-ray scanners are installed in every closed prison in Ireland, and sniffer dogs from the Garda Canine Unit may also be present for the purposes of detecting banned substances.

You may be searched to ensure that you are not in possession of prohibited materials upon entering the prison. The search must be carried out with due regard to your decency and it must be conducted by at least 2 prison guards of your gender.

If you do not consent to be searched, the governor can refuse you entry to the prison.

What can I take into a prison?

Visitors are required to deposit their phones and any personal items in the area provided at the visitors centre before entering the prison.

If you want to give something to your family member, you must check that it is permitted by the prison in advance. Anything you take in must be handed to the officer in charge of visits.

You will not be allowed to enter a prison if you are carrying any of following items:

  • Mobile phones or chargers
  • Any item which could be used as a weapon, particularly sharp items
  • Medicines and drugs, including prescription drugs

The visit

All prisons implement certain measures to regulate and monitor visits in the interests of health and safety. A majority of visits are supervised in sight, but not in hearing.

For example, while prisons must provide facilities to allow a prisoner and visitor to see and talk to one another, the visit may be screened with the use of glass, or other types of screens, to prevent physical contact.

It is at the discretion of the prison governor to allow physical contact between a prisoner and a visitor when they are satisfied that such contact will not facilitate the entry into the prison of controlled drugs or other prohibited articles or substances.

You can view a video on the Irish Prison Service website detailing what you can expect when visiting someone in prison.

The Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas has also produced valuable guidance (pdf) on how to get the most out of a prison visit, including advice on planning visits and respecting prison rules.

Children Visiting a Prison

In most cases, anyone under the age of 18 years who is visiting a prison must be accompanied by an adult.

Owing to prison security measures and the regulated nature of visits, it can often be a stressful experience for a child to visit a loved one in prison. It can be beneficial, therefore, to prepare a child on what to expect when visiting a prison.

'Changing Ireland' and CASP (Clondalkin Addiction Support Programme) have published a series of 11 short videos describing the visiting process for families.

Rights and entitlements of prisoners

The visitation entitlements of prisoners vary based on their custodial status.

The Irish Prison Service also operates an Incentivised Regimes Policy, rewarding prisoners for good behaviour with increased visitation and other entitlements. You can read more (pdf) about the Incentivised Regimes Policy.

You can also learn more about prisoners’ rights and entitlements in our document on Prison conditions.

Physical visits

  • A sentenced prisoner, 18 years old or over, is allowed a minimum of 1, 30 minute visit from relatives or friends each week.
  • A sentenced prisoner under the age of 18 years old is permitted to have a minimum of 2, 30 minute visits from relatives or friends each week.
  • A remand prisoner (that is, someone who has yet to be convicted of a criminal offence and is remanded in custody while awaiting trial) is entitled to receive 1 visit per day from relatives or friends of at least 15 minutes a minimum of 3 times a week. Find out more about the rights of remand prisoners in our document on Detention after arrest.

The governor of a prison can allow for additional or longer visits where circumstances permit. They may also prohibit a prisoner from receiving visitors.

Telephone calls

Subject to the availability of facilities:

  • A convicted prisoner over the age of 18 is entitled to make at least 1 telephone call per week to a member of their family or to a friend.
  • A convicted prisoner under the age of 18 is entitled to make at least 2 telephone calls per week to a member of their family or to a friend.
  • A remand prisoner is entitled to make at least 5 telephone calls per week to a member of their family, or to a friend, and as many telephone calls as are reasonably necessary for the purpose of managing their property or business affairs.

In strictly limited circumstances, where a governor has grounds to believe that a phone call may compromise the health and safety of a prisoner or member of the community, they may order that a call be monitored, recorded or prematurely terminated.

Letters

  • A prisoner is entitled to send letters to their family and friends, and to receive as many letters as are sent to them. However, any prisoner who sends more than 7 letters in a single week may be required to pay for postage and writing materials for any letters in excess of that threshold.
  • A letter given by a prisoner for sending, other than a letter to a professional recipient, such as a legal advisor or court official, may be opened and examined by the governor and may be confiscated if its contents are reasonably suspected of undermining the safety and welfare of others.
  • Equally, a letter sent to a prisoner may be opened, examined and possibly confiscated if the governor has reasonable grounds to believe its contents may compromise the good order or safe or secure custody in the prison.

Foreign nationals

  • A foreign national is entitled to receive a visit from their consul
  • A stateless person is entitled to receive a visit from the consul of a state of their choosing
  • An asylum applicant is entitled to receive a visit from a consul of a state of their choosing, as well as any national or international organisations deemed appropriate by the Minister for Justice and Equality

Unless the Governor otherwise directs, all such visits to foreign nationals will take place in the hearing and view of a prison officer.

Further information

Irish Prison Service

IDA Business Park
Ballinalee Road
Longford
Co. Longford
Ireland

Tel: (043) 333 5100
Fax: (043) 333 5371
Page edited: 12 May 2021