Being released from prison
In addition to completing the full term of your sentence, you may be granted periods of temporary or permanent release in recognition of good conduct in custody, notably by engaging in authorised structured activities that are designed to reduce your likelihood of reoffending.
This document outlines the ways you can be released from prison. It provides information on:
- Temporary release
- Parole; and
- Resettlement and reintegration into the community
You can find out more about the structure and operation of the prison system in Ireland. You can also read about the opportunities for educational and vocational training available to prisoners in our document on prison conditions.
Remission is the complete ending of a sentence at a reduced point.
If you are in prison and part of your sentence is remitted, you are, prior to the completion of the full term of your sentence, released into the community without any further supervision or restrictions. For example, if you have been sentenced to 8 years’ imprisonment, you may be released after 6 years; the remaining 2 years of your sentence are remitted.
Remission does not apply to prisoners who are serving a life sentence (see ‘Parole’ below), or those who are in prison as a debtor or because of contempt of court.
There are two forms of remission set out under Article 59 of the Prison Rules 2007: standard remission and enhanced remission.
Standard remission allows you to shorten the length of your sentence by up to one quarter. In most cases, standard remission is applied automatically provided you do not commit an offence in custody. For example, if you are sentenced to 4 years’ imprisonment, you may be released after 3 years, with the final quarter of your sentence remitted.
On application, the Minister for Justice can grant enhanced remission of up to one third of your sentence. For example, if you are sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment and you are granted enhanced remission of one third of your sentence, you may be released after 2 years.
To be eligible for enhanced remission, you must be able to demonstrate good conduct by engaging in authorised structured activities and the Minister must be satisfied that, as a result, you are unlikely to reoffend and are able to reintegrate into the community upon release.
Temporary release means that you are released from prison for a specified period of time for a specific purpose or reason.
The Criminal Justice Act 1960 allows the Minister for Justice to grant temporary release to prisoners at any time before they qualify for standard remission or to life-sentenced prisoners who are not entitled to standard remission.
There are 3 general kinds of temporary release:
- Compassionate grounds
In most cases, release on compassionate grounds is granted if there is a family emergency, such as a death or serious illness. You may also be released to visit family at Christmas, or to attend special family occasions such as christenings or communions.
- Day-to-day release
In recognition of consistent good behaviour in custody and a willingness to engage in structured rehabilitative activities, you may be granted day-to-day release to participate in work or training outside the prison during the day before returning to custody in the evening. You may also be provided with day release to engage in the building of family relationships as you near the end of your sentence.
- Full temporary release
If you have been progressing well on day-to-day temporary release and have demonstrated a capacity to reintegrate into the community, the Minister for Justice may grant you full temporary release. In practice, this provision ends the custodial portion of your sentence unless you are recalled to prison for any reason.
Eligibility for temporary release
When assessing an application for temporary release, the Minister will consider several factors, including:
- The nature and circumstances of the crime you committed
- Your behaviour in custody and on any previous period of temporary release
- The length of sentence served
- Whether you pose a threat to anyone, if released
- The risk of you not returning at the end of the temporary release
- Whether temporary release would help you re-ingrate into society
If you are granted temporary release, you must:
- Keep the peace and maintain good behaviour
- Maintain sober habits
- Return to prison before the temporary release period expires
- Comply with any other condition imposed
You will sign a release form acknowledging that:
- You are aware of the terms and conditions of your release
- Those terms have been explained to you
- You are aware of the time when your period of release ends
While you are outside the prison, you may be considered to be unlawfully at large and may be arrested when:
- The period of release has ended; or
- A condition of your release has been broken
- If you are discharged from prison whether on temporary or permanent release, the Governor must ensure that you have:
- Enough money for travelling to your residence within the State
- Suitable clothing to wear; and
- Enough money to live on, as is considered appropriate in the circumstances
The Probation Service
In most cases, supervised temporary release is facilitated through the Probation Service, an organisation that supervises and supports offenders in reintegrating into the community.
On arrival in prison you will be advised of the availability of the Probation Service and an officer may be assigned to work with you to address your offending behaviour. Read more about the work of the Probation Service in prisons.
For example, the Probation Service works with the Prison Service to facilitate the Community Return programme, an incentivised scheme for the supervised release of prisoners, serving sentences of between 1 to 8 years, who complete unpaid community work as a condition of their release.
Similarly, prisoners serving short-term sentences of 3 to 12 months may be considered for supervised temporary release under the Community Support Scheme.
You can read more about the role of the Probation Service.
If you are serving a life sentence or a long-term sentence of 8 or more years, you may be released from prison early on parole if you make an application to the Parole Board.
Parole is a form of conditional release usually for longer-term prisoners. If you are released on parole, your sentence is not over. Conditions are imposed in a parole order and continue to apply for the remaining time of your court-imposed sentence, or for life in the case of life-sentenced offenders. Breach of a condition can result in you being recalled to prison.
The Parole Board is obliged to notify you of when you become eligible for parole and you can then make an application for parole.
The Parole Board
The Parole Board reviews the sentences of prisoners serving 8 or more years. Currently:
- Prisoners serving sentences of longer than 8 years can be reviewed at the half-way mark of their sentence
- Prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment, are first reviewed after 12 years
Some offences, such as capital murder, certain sexual offences, drug and gangland related offences are subject to minimum terms of imprisonment. You will not be eligible for parole in these cases until that minimum sentence is served.
You can access detailed information regarding the structure and operation of the Parole Board in the organisation’s official guide (PDF). Please note that the Parole Board was put on a statutory basis in the Parole Act 2019 and this is not yet reflected in the official guide.
The Parole Board also publishes an Annual Report in which you can find information about the number and type of cases referred to the Board for review.
Factors considered in a parole review
In making its decisions, the Parole Board considers a number of factors, which include:
- Whether you constitute a threat to the community or a previous victim
- Whether you have been rehabilitated and are capable of reintegrating into society.
- The nature and circumstances of the offence you committed
- Any recommendation made by the court at the time of sentencing
- Your behaviour in custody, particularly your engagement with therapeutic services designed to mitigate your offending behaviour
- The risk of you failing to comply with any conditions
- Any submissions made by or on behalf of any victim; and
- Any compassionate grounds which merit special consideration
Second and subsequent reviews
In general, prisoners serving very long sentences, including life sentences, are reviewed on a number of occasions over a number of years before any substantial concessions are recommended by the Board.
If your application is refused, you will be provided with the reasons for the refusal in writing. You will also be notified of when you will next become eligible for parole. This will be within 2 years of the making of the refusal decision.
It is also open to the Parole Board to offer guidance in its refusal decision on the steps to be taken to assist you in making a successful application in future.
Resettlement and reintegration
The Irish Prison Service is committed to working with you to plan and structure your release from custody. This planning is intended to better facilitate your effective resettlement and reintegration into the community.
It works with the Irish Association for the Social Integration of Offenders (IASIO) to provide 2 primary programmes to support the reintegration process, the ‘Gaining Access to Training and Employment’ (GATE) Service and the Resettlement Service.
- The GATE Service is a vocational scheme that offers guidance counselling and placement supports to referred prisoners with the overall aim of securing a placement in training or employment post-release.
- The Resettlement Service is a primary needs support programme for prisoners with less than 18 months to serve on their sentence. It provides one-to-one support from the prison to the community, assisting prisoners to access housing and welfare supports on release.
You may also receive support from the Probation Service upon your release. In addition to providing guidance and advice, the Probation Service funds several community based projects which can support you in returning to education, training or employment. You can find contact details for local Probation Services on probation.ie.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust has compiled a comprehensive list of organisations across the country which provide advice and support to prisoners and former prisoners. There are also several organisations dedicated to supporting the families of prisoners.