Know Your Rights - Your Rights As A Prisoner

The information on this website is designed to help you to better know and understand the rights someone has while they are in prison. This website is an interactive version of IPRT and ICCL's 'Know Your Rights - Your Rights as a Prisoner' booklet.

The booklet is available for download in different formats by clicking the orange button.

Please don’t be put off by the amount of information on this website. You can read and/or print just the sections that are important to you. We have done our best to write and present this information as clearly as we can, and we start below by explaining some of the key words used on this website.

You can always click back to the 'Key Words' section if you come across a word you do not understand. We used Plain English Guidelines to help as many people as possible understand the information.

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What should I do if I think my human rights have been violated (not respected) in prison?

If you wish to complain, either by speaking to someone or in writing, you should do so as soon as possible after you believe your rights have been violated.

As a first step, you can raise the matter with the Governor. The Governor should meet with you if you ask them to. (Rule 55)

Where you make a complaint, the Governor should decide on the complaint and notify you as soon as possible. The Governor should record the details of this meeting. You can also request a meeting with the Visiting Committee. (Rule 56)

You may write to the Governor asking them if you can meet with an officer of the Minister for Justice. (Rule 57) Where you make a complaint to an officer of the Minister, they can make a recommendation to the Governor

Where the Governor refuses to put in place the recommendation of the Office of the Minister, the Director General may direct the Governor to comply with the recommendation.

If I make an allegation or serious complaint, what should I expect to happen?

Any allegation (claim or statement) you make to a Prison Officer or member of the Irish Prison Service, about something that may be a criminal offence, should be reported to the Governor and An Garda Síochána.

It must be brought to the attention of the Governor where you allege any conduct against you of a nature and seriousness which would discredit the Prison Service.

This includes:

  • assualt or use of excessive force
  • ill treatment
  • racial abuse
  • discrimination
  • intimidation
  • threats

Every prisoner, Prison Officer and other prison staff member to whom this type of complaint is made must bring it to the attention of the Governor.

In relation to these types of complaints, the Governor should keep a record of the following, the:

  1. identity of the complainant (you) and the time and date the complaint was made
  2. details of the complaint
  3. time and date the complaint was notified to the Governor
  4. time and date of the notification of An Garda Síochána and the name of the member identified.

When the Governor is notified about the complaint, they should arrange for relevant evidence like CCTV recordings to be kept. These may be needed for any investigations by An Garda Síochána or any criminal proceedings. The Governor should arrange:

  • for the prisoner to be questioned
  • to record details of any injuries or marks
  • to record the names of witnesses.

You should be given any help you need to record your complaint in writing. The Governor should take steps to make sure that you are not victimised.

The Director General of the Prison Service should appoint an external investigation team. You should be told who the members of the investigation team are and how you can contact the team. The Director General of the Prison Service may decide not to appoint an investigation team if they believe the complaint is vexatious or without foundation.

The investigation of the complaint should be finished within three months from the date of the complaint. The team should send the report to the Governor. If the Governor is the person about whom you are complaining, the report should be submitted to the Director General. A report should also be sent to the Inspector of Prisons.

What if I am not happy with the outcome?

If you are not satisfied with the outcome (result) of the complaints process, you can write saying why to:

  • the Director General of the Irish Prison Service
  • the Office of the Inspector of Prisons

The Inspector of Prisons has oversight of investigations into serious complaints. They should have access to relevant materials in the investigation and may investigate any aspect they see fit. There is currently no fully independent complaints mechanism for prisoners in Ireland.

Can I complain about the healthcare staff?

Yes. You should explain your complaint in a letter to the Governor. It will then be investigated and sent to the Executive Clinical Lead of Healthcare of the Irish Prison Service.

Prisoners can also complain to the professional bodies governing doctors and nurses:

  • the Irish Medical Council for doctors
  • An Bord Altranais for nurses (see contacts section at the end of this for details).

What can I do if I have a complaint against the media?

If a story published about you in a newspaper is false and harms your reputation, you can write to the Office of the Press Ombudsman to complain. If the Press Ombudsman thinks that your complaint is valid, they will try to settle it to the satisfaction of everyone involved.

If this is not possible, the Press Ombudsman can refer your complaint directly to the Press Council for a decision. There is no charge for the services of the Press Ombudsman.

If your complaint relates to a story about you that was broadcast on the radio or TV, you can write to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland who will investigate the matter.

Prisoners have rights just like anyone else. Some of these rights are restricted because you’re in prison, including the right to privacy. However, it does not mean that the media can invade your privacy and publish anything they like about you.

As a prisoner, you still have a personal reputation that can be damaged by false allegations. If you feel a false and damaging story about you has been published, you should speak to your legal advisor about the possibility of taking legal action. You may be able to seek damages for any harmful publication or you may be able to get a published apology or correction.

Are there external organisations I can tell if I think my rights have been violated?

Yes. You can write confidentially to several external bodies. (Rule 44)

These include the:

  • Inspector of Prisons
  • Presidents of the various Irish Courts
  • Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission
  • European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT)
  • the International Red Cross

If you have a complaint, you can also:

  • talk to a prison chaplain who can give you support or advice
  • write to the United Nations Committee against Torture
  • contact the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) (note: prison staff can open and read your letter to the IPRT)
  • write to the International Red Cross.

The above bodies do not have specific owers to settle your complaint.

You can also write to your TD (an elected public representative for the area where you are from) if you think your rights have been violated