Life In Prison
This page contains all of the information about life in prison. To read individual topics, you can click on the headers on the left-hand side.
Everyone in prison who comes into contact with you must follow the Prison Rules, 2007–2020. We number the rules we mention so you can look them up if you need to.
Going To Prison
How will I be treated on the way to prison?
- You have the right to be hidden from the public as much as possible while being taken to and from prison.
- You should not have to suffer insult or publicity of any kind.
- The vehicle in which you are travelling should be safe and comfortable. (Rule 50)
What does the Prison Officer or Garda do?
A Prison Custody Officer will be with you at all times when you are being taken to or from a prison.
If the officer believes you have banned items in your possession, they will search you. You may have to sit on the Body Orifice Security Scanner (BOSS) chair. This is a highly sensitive metal detector, which can detect items like mobile phones if you hide them inside your body.
Gives Court Order to Governor
When you arrive at the prison, the Garda or Prison Officer must give the Governor the court order about your prison sentence. (Rule 3)
If you are on any medication or you have a prescription for any medication, the Garda or Prison Officer must give this to the Governor and pass on any information that they have about your health. (Rule 4)
Information About You
The Garda or Prison Officer cannot give information about you to anyone outside the Prison Service unless the Minister for Justice orders them to. (Rule 51)
The Committal Process
What does the committal process involve?
The committal process deals with admitting you into the prison. You can only be committed to prison with a valid committal order from a court. The Garda or Prison Officer must give this to the Governor. (Rule 3)
Steps When Being Admitted
First, the officer will bring you to the prison reception area where your details will be written down. (Rule 4)
These details include your:
- date of birth
- closest relative
- reason you are being sent to prison (‘reason for committal’)
- date and time of your admission
- date you are to be released.
You will be weighed and measured. Details of any marks or scars on your body will be put in your personal prison file.
You will be allowed to tell a family member or some other person where you are as soon as possible. (Rule 5)
What Prison Staff Need to Know About You
You should tell prison staff if you:
- were ever in prison before
- take drugs
- were ever in a mental health facility like a closed hospital
- ever self-harmed
- are feeling suicidal
- have any injuries on your body that have not been noted.
You need to do this so that they can get you the treatment you need. All information you give is treated in confidence. You should tell the prison staff if:
- you believe it is not safe for you to be among other prisoners
- you wish to be placed on protection (separated from the general prison population).
Meeting the Governor
The Governor of the prison, or somebody who represents them, should meet you soon after you are admitted to prison (Rule 14). They should ask you if you have been told about the Prison Rules. This includes
- how you are expected to behave
- things to which you are entitled when in prison.
You can also ask the Governor to write down further details of information that may be important for you to understand, but which were not written down when you were committed.
If You’re Not an Irish citizen
If you are not an Irish citizen, you should be given information about how to contact your:
- Embassy, or
- the Consulate representing citizens of your country.
If You Are an Asylum Seeker
If you are an asylum seeker, you should get information about how to contact:
- the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or
- their representative in Ireland.
You can also ask to contact other organisations if you would like them to protect your rights as an asylum seeker or refugee. (Rule 16)
Will I be given information about my rights and duties in prison?
Yes. You should get a booklet explaining your rights and privileges and what your duties are in prison. (Rule 13) A full copy of the Prison Rules should be available for you to access in a convenient place in the prison.
Language You Can Understand
If you are not fluent in English, if possible, you should be given a copy of the prison booklet in a language you can understand.
If the prison booklet is not available in your native language and you cannot understand it, prison staff should try to explain the information so that you understand it.
If you cannot read or cannot understand the prison booklet, the Governor should arrange to have your rights and duties explained to you as soon as possible.
If you have a disability, the Irish Prison Service is obliged by law to do anything appropriate it can to meet your information needs.
Can I be searched?
Yes. You can be searched at any time if the Governor considers there are reasonable grounds to do so (Rule 6).
You will be searched by a person of your own gender. They should respect your decency, privacy and dignity during the search.
A search may mean you remove your clothing like:
- outer clothing.
At no stage should you be left completely naked. The search should not be done if another prisoner can see you.
If You Refuse The Search
If you refuse to be searched, the Prison Officer may only use enough force as is reasonably necessary to carry out the search. This must not involve a search of your anus or vagina.
Any banned items like mobile phones or weapons will be taken from you. You may get items like your mobile phones back when you are released.
Can I be photographed and have my finger and palm prints taken?
Yes. If you have been convicted of a crime, your photograph, fingerprints and palm prints will be taken (Rule 10). At any point during your time in prison, if the Governor asks, these details about you can be taken:
- palm prints
Sometimes the Governor may order your photograph and prints to be taken if the Gardaí have asked for a copy of these and there is a legal reason for this. For example, if your prints are needed to investigate a different offence.
The law allows for a sample of DNA to be taken. DNA is a chemical that contains unique information about you. DNA is often sampled from your hair or mouth. A sample of DNA can legally be taken from a person who:
- is serving a sentence
- is on temporary release
- has a sentence that is still in force.
If the Governor authorises it, a Prison Officer may take such a sample from you.
What is the role of the Prison Governor?
The Governor is head of the prison (Rule 75). You will meet the Governor or somebody who represents them, within 24 hours of when you are committed to prison, or as soon as possible afterwards.
You should let the Governor or their representative know if you have any legal plans, for example if you intend:
- to apply for bail or legal aid
- to appeal your conviction or the length of your sentence.
The Governor should protect and uphold the human rights of all prisoners. They should make sure you understand your:
The Governor should make sure that you are not discriminated against because of:
- marital status
- family status
- sexual orientation
- membership of the Traveller community
The Governor manages the delivery of all services to prisoners.
The Governor makes sure that a sentence management plan is prepared and put in place for you. This should help ease you back into society when you are released.
The Governor supervises those who provide services to prisoners and those making your sentence management plan. The aim is that they work together to get the best possible result for you.
Will I be told my release date?
Yes. If you are convicted and sentenced to a time in prison, you should be told the date of your release as soon as possible (Rule 15). If your sentence is for more than one month, this date will be worked out based on your full sentence with a quarter off for good behaviour. (See here for more information)
If there is any change to your release date, you should be told as soon as possible and given the reason for the change of date.
Will I see a doctor and nurse?
Yes. 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.
A nurse will do a health check on you as soon as possible after you are committed.
Ideally, a doctor should examine you on the day you are committed or as soon as possible after that. You should tell the doctor if you have any:
- illness – including an infectious disease
Tell the doctor if you:
- take prescribed medication
- need treatment
- need to go to medical appointments outside the prison.
This information is stored on a computer system that only healthcare staff can access. It is confidential.
The prison doctor will continue to prescribe any medication you may need – if they think it is appropriate for you.
Let the nurse and doctor know, so that they can arrange appropriate treatment for you, if you:
- have a drink or drugs problem
- were on a methadone programme in the community or in another prison.
Your drug history and urine test results will decide the treatment you need. The doctor will put you on suitable treatment. It is very important to be honest with healthcare staff about your alcohol and drug taking to keep you safe in prison. Again, this service is confidential.
Can I wear my own clothes in prison?
It depends on the Governor and the prison you are in. Once you are weighed and so on, you should be given the chance to shower and then change into prison clothes or your own clothes. You will get suitable underwear, clothes, socks and shoes if needed.
The Governor may allow you to wear your own clothes in prison. If so, you must have enough clothes, including underwear, to change regularly. Your clothes must be warm enough and you must keep them in a decent, clean condition (Rule 21). Arrangements should be made for the cleaning and laundering of your clothes.
If you are not allowed to wear your own clothing, for example, if you are in Cloverhill remand prison, you will be given clothes that are warm enough and, if possible, suitable for people of your age and gender outside prison.
If visitors wish to bring you clothing or other property, they must have it in a bag labelled with your:
- prisoner number
- date of birth
- home address.
They must hand the bag in at the reception desk in the visitors’ waiting room. If the Class Officer in charge of your landing decides that you have too many clothes in your locker, you will have to parcel them up to be stored or collected by your family.
What happens to my personal belongings?
A list of all your personal property will be made when you enter prison. (Rule 8) Any valuable items like jewellery will be noted and stored safely in the General Office. Other personal property will be listed and stored safely at reception.
If you want to keep any personal property in your cell, you need to get permission from prison management. If permission is given, you keep this property at your own risk. You do not have a right to give away or sell your property to another prisoner, nor can you swap it. If you want any of your property from the reception, you must get the Governor’s permission.
What happens to my money?
When you’re admitted to prison, your cash is lodged in an account in the General Office. The Governor should make a list of all articles, including cash, brought in by you or sent to you. They should keep a record of this.
Friends and family members can put money into this account for you, and they will get a receipt. If you do not spend all your money in prison you will get it back when you are released.
The Irish Prison Service no longer accepts money from your visitors when they visit you. Instead, your relatives can transfer money to you if they want to using electronic transfer of money options or using a special An Post Bill Pay Card
You may send money to your family (for example if you work in prison and get paid) but you need to ask the Governor for permission.
Will I be given toiletries?
Yes. Your Class Officer will provide items like:
- sanitary towels
- a toothbrush
Throughout your time in prison, you will be given, free of charge, the items needed for good health and hygiene (cleanliness).
How often can I shower?
You should be allowed to take a hot shower or bath as often as possible, however, you are entitled to a hot shower or bath at least once a week. (Rule 25 )
If necessary, you may be excused from having a hot shower or bath for medical reasons.
What can I expect my cell to be like?
All prison cells or rooms should have the necessary furnishings. They should be:
- well ventilated
- well lit
- warm enough.
When you arrive in prison you will be given enough bedding. This is usually:
- a blanket
- a pillow.
Every prisoner should have at least a mattress, if not a bed, to sleep on. (Rule 22)
If possible, toilets and washing facilities will be in the cell or room. If this isn’t the case, you should have reasonable access to toilets and washing facilities outside the cell.
Can I have a cell on my own?
Generally, no. If possible, prisoners should have individual cells to sleep in. However, overcrowding in Irish prisons means that not many prisoners have single cells, but instead usually share with one or two others.
The Minister for Justice has the power to specify the maximum number of people who may be put in a cell. (Rule 18 )
Sometimes prisoners can be held for a short time in a place other than a cell (for example, an office, recreation area or lobby). This happens if the Governor decides that exceptional circumstances like extreme overcrowding justify it.
The Governor must notify the Minister for Justice if circumstances mean you are going to be accommodated in a place other than a cell for more than 24 hours. (Rule 19)
Am I responsible for cleaning my cell?
Yes, prisoners need to keep their cells clean, with their belongings neatly arranged. (Rule 20) Prison staff will give you cleaning materials.
What kind of food can I expect in prison?
You should receive a balanced diet with food that is nutritious and somewhat varied each day (Rule 23). If you are a member of a particular religion or culture the Governor will try, as far as possible, to respect the dietary practices of your religion or culture.
For example, you may be a:
- Muslim who requires a Halal diet
- Jewish person who requires a Kosher diet
- Hindu who is a strict vegetarian
If you are suffering from a medical condition or being treated for one, the doctor can recommend that your diet be adjusted or changed if it affects your condition. You should have access to enough clean drinking water every day.
Cigarettes Alcohol and Drugs
Am I allowed to smoke in prison?
You don’t have a right to smoke in prison. (Rule 26) However, you may smoke in prison with the permission of the Governor. You must ask for permission to smoke in your cell or in other parts of the prison. Smoking is only allowed in certain areas in prison including your cell and outside areas
Am I allowed to drink alcohol in prison?
You do not have a right to drink or possess alcohol unless the Governor gives you permission to do so. (Rule 26)
Am I allowed to use illegal drugs in prison?
No. Unless you have a valid prescription from a doctor, a psychiatrist or dentist (Rule 26), you may not have, and no member of the prison staff should provide you with, any controlled drug or medicine.
Hair, Urine and Saliva Samples
You might have to give a hair, urine or saliva sample so prison staff can detect the presence or use of any:
- controlled drug
- medicinal product.
This is not done for substances prescribed by a prison doctor, psychiatrist or dentist.
If you refuse to provide a sample, this is serious as you are breaching (not following) prison discipline.
Prison staff may randomly search you after a visit, even if you are not a known drug user. This is because you could be put under pressure to bring drugs into the prison for other prisoners.
If you wish to stop smoking or if you have a drink or drug addiction problem, you should discuss this with the staff. They will be able to advise you about appropriate services or give you information about counselling available in your prison.
Education, Training And Services
What do I do during the day?
The facilites available to prisoners outside their cells include:
You should be able to take part in what the Irish Prison Service (IPS) calls ‘authorised structured activities’. This includes work, training and education. It also includes taking part in programmes designed to reduce offending and help you to prepare for going back into society.
Where possible, you should get involved and have access, to these activities for at least five hours a day, five days a week. (Rule 27 )
Working in the prison might mean doing jobs to keep the prison running smoothly. These jobs might include cleaning or painting of landings or yards or other parts of the prison.
You do not have to take part in work if the prison doctor certifies in writing that you are unfit to work due to health reasons, or due to age or disability.
How much can I exercise in prison?
By law you have the right to at least one hour of recreation in the open air every day, like walking around the yard. (Rule 32)
Your entitlements to recreation, exercise and training may be stopped, restricted or changed for a specified period if this needs to happen to prevent or limit the spread of an infectious disease.
Where possible, you should have access to suitable indoor space and equipment for:
You will not have to take part in exercise or training if a prison doctor certifies in writing that you are unfit due to ill-health or age.
Remedial Therapy or Care
The Governor in consultation with the Director of Prison Healthcare should provide remedial physical education or therapy to you if the prison doctor certifies that it is necessary.
Can I access education and training in prison?
Yes. You should be able to access education programmes to suit you in prison. (Rule 110) All prisons in Ireland have a duty to provide education and training facilities so that prisoners can serve their sentence in the most useful way possible.
You should be allowed to access education facilities in the prison where you are serving your sentence. A wide range of educational resources should be available to you while you are in prison.
Soon after you are committed, you should meet with the head teacher to talk about your options for education and work training. Classes are available in subjects like:
- personal development
Some courses may be available before you are released. These include professional development and career guidance. You can study some subjects at Junior Cert and Leaving Cert level, and you may even move on to third-level courses.
Staff should encourage you to take on some educational activities while you are in prison.
Can I take classes to improve my reading and writing?
Yes. If you feel you need help with basic reading and writing skills, the education and prison staff should help you to take part in literacy and numeracy education programmes. (Rule 110 )
Can I use the library?
Yes. A library and information centre should be provided in every prison. Prisoners should have regular access to a wide range of information. You should be able to use the library service at your prison at least once a week. (Rule 110 )
Staff in the education unit and library of the prison should treat you with the same respect and dignity as if you were a student in an outside educational facility or library
Incentivised Regimes (IR) is a rewards scheme based on a prisoner’s level of engagement with services and their behaviour. There are three levels: basic, standard and enhanced.
All prisoners enter the system at 'standard' level
A prisoner is eligible for an 'enhanced' regime when they meet relevant conditions for two months in a row.
A prisoner can also be put back to a 'basic' regime level. This can happen if you refuse to engage in structured activities or you do not meet expected behaviour standards.
Incentivised Regimes is an Irish Prison Service policy. It is not governed by the Prison Rules.
Letters Phone Calls And Visits - Contact with the outside World
How often can I make phone calls in prisons?
If you are a sentenced prisoner, you have the right to make at least one phone call a week to a family member or friend (Rule 46 ). The Governor can decide how long your phone calls should be, but generally the computer system allows up to six minutes. You must tell staff the phone numbers you wish to ring, and these numbers will be checked and listed on a list of numbers you are clear to ring. You may have the right to ring more often than once a week, but this depends on the regime level you have achieved under the Incentivised Regimes Policy (described in the box on the left).
As well as your weekly calls to family or friends, you may call your legal advisor at any time that is reasonable. (Rule 46 )
If you are a remand prisoner, you have a right to make at least five phone calls a week. (Rule 46  (a)). You are also allowed to make as many calls as you need, within reason, to manage your property or business affairs while you are on remand. (Rule 46  (b)).
Will someone listen to my phone calls?
Yes. All phone calls are monitored and recorded except for calls you make to your solicitor (legal advisor) and to counselling services like the Samaritans.
Prison staff may listen to or record your phone calls at any time, but they should make you aware they are doing this. For example, there might be a sign on the wall near the phone saying that your call is being listened to; or you might hear a recorded message on the phone before you get through to the number you’re calling.
The Governor may also end your phone call if they believe that it is threatening, upsetting or offensive to the person you are speaking to, or that it could interfere with the course of justice. (Rule 46 )
It is against the law to have a mobile phone in prison unless you have the permission of the Governor. (Section 36, Prison Act 2007)
How many letters may I send a week?
You can send letters to your family and friends. (Rule 43) If you send more than seven letters in one week, you may be charged for the cost of postage and materials for every letter over seven. There is no limit on the number of letters you can receive.
If you are a remand prisoner, you can send as many letters as necessary each week, to manage your property or business affairs.
If you are a remand prisoner, you have a right to make at least five phone calls a week. (Rule 46  (a)). You are also allowed to make as many calls as you need, within reason, to manage your property or business affairs while you are on remand. (Rule 46  (b)).
Can my letters be opened and read before they leave the prison?
Yes. A Prison Officer will open and check each letter before it is sent. The letter may be taken away from you and not be sent if the:
- Governor considers it to be threatening in nature
- person you’re writing to has told the Governor that they don’t want to receive letters from you.
Also, your letter could be taken from you if it could help a criminal offence to be committed or if it would obstruct (block) a criminal investigation.
Can I send any letters that will not be inspected?
Yes. Letters you send to certain organisations or bodies will not be opened before they are sent. Prison staff will post them without delay. (Rule 44). These include letters to:
- your solicitor (legal advisor)
- the Minister for Justice.
They also include letters to the:
- Chief Justice
- President of the High Court
- President of the Circuit Court
- President of the District Court
- Presiding Judge of the Special Criminal Court.
Prison staff will not open letters you send to the following:
- a member of the Prison Visiting Committee
- the Inspector of Prisons
- the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission
- the Parole Board
- the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT)
- the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Prison staff may open mail addressed to you from your solicitor or any of the organisations or bodies listed above, but just to make sure that it is from your solicitor or one of the listed organisations. If they are going to examine any letter addressed to you from the bodies listed above, they must open it while you are there.
If you are concerned about any communication with any of the listed bodies above or about your solicitor being interfered with, you should tell your legal advisor.
As a disciplinary sanction, you may be banned from sending or receiving letters for a period of up to 60 days. This sanction does not apply to letters with the bodies listed above. It also does not apply to voting at an election or referendum.
How many visits can I get from friends and family each week?
|Type Of Prisoner||You may get at least the number of visits shown below.||The greatest number of visits you can get each week is shown below.||Length of visit|
|Sentenced||1||Governor can decide||30 minutes|
If you are a sentenced prisoner, you are entitled to at least one visit per week from relatives or friends for at least 30 minutes. (Rule 35 ) The Governor at your prison may allow you to have more visits if they believe it would benefit your welfare or rehabilitation.
If you are a remand prisoner, you are entitled to a minimum of three 15-minute visits each week and maximum of six visits a week. (Rule 35 )
All prisoners can name six to eight people a month to visit them. Visitors can book an appointment through the prison (online or by phone).
The governor may restrict the number of people allowed to visit you at any one time to three.
The prison must provide facilities to allow you and your visitors to see and talk to each other. However, they can prevent physical contact, for example, by making you sit apart or be separated by a screen.
You are not allowed to pass items to your visitors, unless the Governor allows it.
The Governor has a wide discretion (decision-making powers) to regulate visits. The governor can refuse to allow a visit to take place to maintain good order and safe and secure custody. You may also refuse to go on a visit at any time.
If there is a need to prevent or limit the spread of an infectious disease, your entitlements to visits may be suspended (stopped for a period of time) or visits may change in terms of how often they happen, their length and the number and age of visitors permitted to see you.
Three Levels of Privilege
The Irish Prison Service operates three tiers (levels) of privileges under the Incentivised Regimes Policy.
All prisoners enter prison on the standard level. Moving through the tiers depends on how well you work with prison services and on your behaviour while in prison. The higher your privilege level, for example ‘enhanced’, the more likely you are to be allowed more visits and phone calls. However, this is a policy made by the Irish Prison Service, it is not a right.
Will my visitors be searched?
Prison staff will search visitors when they are entering the prison. This happens as follows:
- normally, the visitor passes through an electronic body scanner
- this is followed by an electronic search by a Prison Officer using a handheld device
- this may then be followed by having to stand for an inspection by a sniffer dog..
If a visitor does not pass any of these inspections, the Governor may decide to cancel or restrict the visit. If a visitor refuses to be searched, the Governor may cancel the visit.
Do I have a right to conjugal visits?
No. Conjugal visits are not allowed. This means you cannot have sex with your spouse or partner in prisons in Ireland.
How often can my legal advisor visit me in prison?
You can receive a visit from your legal representative any day of the week within normal visiting hours to discuss any legal action or case or appeal concerning you. (Rule 38) Your solicitor will have to book the visit with the prison.
A visit from your legal advisor is not counted as an ordinary visit, which means you are still allowed to receive the normal number of visits from your family or friends. Visits from legal advisors should take place in view of a Prison Officer, but not within their hearing. Access to your legal advisor is completely confidential.
What if I need an interpreter?
If you are a foreign national or you need an interpreter so you can fully understand your legal advisor, you might be able to get an interpreter. The Governor will need to give their permission to get an interpreter.
What if I have a disability?
If you have a disability, the prison service has a duty to accommodate your needs. This means the Irish Prison Service must take appropriate steps to help you make contact with the outside world as needed. Please visit this page for more information on what your rights are if you have a disability. Prisoners With Disabilities
Religious and Spiritual Practice
Do I have a right to practise my religion or faith in prison?
You have the right to practise your religion or faith in prison (Rule 34) as long as the prison can still keep good order and safe and secure custody. This means you should be able to take part in relevant religious services in prison, or have access to relevant religious books or materials.
The chaplains are responsible for the spiritual care of all prisoners no matter what their religion or faith. Representatives of various religions or faiths can also attend the prisons on a visiting basis.
Do I have a right to receive spiritual or pastoral visits?
Yes. You can have visits from a spiritual or pastoral advisor with the permission of the Governor. (Rule 34) You should be allowed access to a representative of any denomination if a visit is orderly and safe.
What if there is no authorised chaplain?
If you belong to a religion for which there is no authorised chaplain at the prison, you may receive spiritual or pastoral visits from an advisor or representative of your religion. You must get the Governor’s written consent.
The supervising Prison Officer is allowed to see these visits, but they are not allowed to hear what you are saying.
If you have a visit from a spiritual advisor, it is not counted as an ordinary visit, so you are still allowed to receive the normal number of visits from your family or friends.
You should not be forced to take part in any religious service or meeting.
Does a chaplain do more than provide spiritual visits?
Yes. Chaplains have a ‘pastoral’ role. This means that they can provide you with care and counselling. They can help you to:
- explore treatment and rehabilitation options
- keep up contact with your family and community.
The chaplain will listen to you, and support and encourage you at times of trauma, crisis, illness or grief.
You can speak to a chaplain if you have concerns about any issue, including worries about:
- your health
- your family
- legal matters
- your emotional well-being.
A chaplain can visit you if you are under restraint or confined to a cell. They will always treat everything you say as confidential. The chaplains can also help you to prepare for your release.
Meetings with prison chaplains are generally not in view or hearing of a prison officer.
As a prisoner, do I have the right to vote?
Yes. If you are in prison, and are not registered for voting, you can register for a postal vote. This should be for a vote in the area that you would be living in if you were not in prison. You do this by completing a ‘Form RFA4’ and posting it to the relevant address in good time before the vote.
If you are already registered to vote in that area and wish to be able to vote from prison, then you should fill out a ‘Form RFG’.
These forms are available in all prisons. You should send the form to the local authority for your area. If you need more information about how to register, ask the Governor or your Class Officer.
What standard of medical care should I receive in prison?
You should be provided with healthcare that is the same standard as if you were outside the prison and had a medical card. (Rule 33)
The Irish Prison Service must maintain the well-being of all prisoners in its care. This includes making sure that infectious diseases, like TB or Covid-19, do not spread. This is why the medical examination at the committal stage is so important. It should:
- identify any prisoner who needs to be isolated because they might have a contagious condition
- organise any necessary suitable treatment.
You can expect the same level of confidential treatment as you would get in any other healthcare setting outside the prison.
You should never be asked to take part in any medical experiment or drug trial.
Who is responsible for the healthcare of prisoners?
The prison doctor is responsible for the healthcare of prisoners. If you get sick or suffer from a medical condition, the doctor will diagnose and treat you within the prison if this is possible. If the doctor or nurse cannot treat you properly within the prison, they can, with the Governor’s approval, arrange for you to be treated in hospital.
The doctor or nurse in prison should treat you with the same dignity and respect as patients would receive outside the prison.
What should I do if I am sick and need to see a doctor?
If you feel sick, tell your Class Officer who will tell the nurse. The nurse will either come to see you and treat you if they can or they’ll make an appointment for you at the next doctor’s clinic.
If you cannot go to the healthcare or surgery area because you are too ill, arrangements can be made for the doctor to come see you in your cell. When you are ill, you should be assessed by someone from the medical staff as soon as possible. Healthcare staff should visit you if it is a medical emergency and arrange for you to be sent to a hospital for further medical attention if needed.
Will my consultation with the doctor be kept confidential?
Generally, yes. Healthcare professionals must make sure they respect your confidentiality. If you have to see the doctor, the consultation should take place in private unless the doctor requests a Prison Officer to be there. They might do this if, for example, they have concerns for their own safety. Those concerns or reasons must be written down.
What you discuss with the doctor is your own business. The doctor must not discuss your health with anyone else except other healthcare staff. The doctor should give you all the information you need to help you make good decisions about your healthcare. In exceptional circumstances, you will be asked for your consent (agreement) to share your medical information. This means you will be asked to read and sign a form describing what information, why and to whom this information is to be shared with.
When can the doctor share medical information about me?
Information about your health should only be shared with other people on a ‘need-to-know’ basis.
For example, the doctor might talk to the Governor about your health if they are concerned that some aspect of the prison environment or activities is damaging to your physical or mental health.
The doctor may also need to share your health information if you:
- need specialist care outside the prison
- need to be transferred out of the prison in an emergency.
The prison doctor or psychiatrist should write to the Governor if they believe:
- your life will be in danger if you stay in prison
- you are unlikely to live until the end of your sentence
- you are unfit to remain in prison
- you are unfit for the particular prison’s regime
- your mental or physical health is being seriously affected by being in prison
- you are unfit to travel outside the prison, even for court appearances.
If the prison doctor or psychiatrist writes to the Governor about any of these issues, the Governor must let the Minister for Justice know about this medical opinion as soon as possible.
If I have a mental health problem, can I access any special services?
If you are suffering from a mental health problem and you want or need to talk to someone about it, the Irish Prison Service must do its best to provide you with the services you need.
All prisons have access to mental health services and the doctor will make arrangements for treatment if they think it’s necessary.
The first thing to do is to talk to the prison nursing staff, many of whom have mental health training. Addiction counsellors will see anyone with an addiction problem. The prison psychologist will see you and, if you need it, they’ll treat you as much as they can.
The prison psychologist must always respect your dignity and confidentiality. If they are concerned about your safety or if they think you might be a risk to yourself or to others, they can make recommendations to the Governor about your needs.
The doctor in the prison must pay attention to any mental health problems you have. They can then ask the prison psychologist or the Governor to send you for a mental health assessment.
The failure to provide you with adequate psychiatric healthcare could be found to be a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
If I have a drug problem, can I access treatment services in prison?
Yes. If you are taking drugs or are addicted to drugs, then there are drug treatment programmes available to you while in prison.
These services should be the same as services that can be found in the community and should be suitable to the prison setting. If you have a history of opiate use and you test positive, you may be offered medical help to detox.
If I am worried about my sexual health, can I access screening and treatment services in prison?
Yes. You should speak to the medical staff at the prison about getting a blood test to set your mind at ease If you are worried you have:
- a sexually transmitted disease or infection
- HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
All prisoners are offered a hepatitis B vaccination and screening for bloodborne viruses like hepatitis and HIV.
What happens if I have a contagious disease like Covid-19 or TB?
If you have a contagious disease you should tell the nurse when you’re being admitted to prison. Healthcare staff will contact the Public Health Department.
If there’s a danger that you could infect others, you will be separated from other prisoners as quickly as possible to stop the spread of the disease
The medical examination identifies any possible contagious diseases in prisoners, so you can be kept apart from other prisoners and treated.
When you are being committed, you should be asked specific questions about the symptoms of any illnesses you have or have had in the past. You’ll also be asked about any:
- medications you are taking
- history of contact with any infectious diseases.
All prisoners should, if possible, be put in a cell on their own until they have been medically checked. Infectious diseases may be more likely to spread in prison due to the close contact prisoners may be in with each other, particularly if you are sharing cells
If the nurse suspects that you might have TB or Covid-19 when you are committed, you should be isolated in suitable accommodation until the diagnosis is confirmed. If you receive a positive test result, appropriate action will be taken to make sure the disease does not spread any further.
What are my healthcare rights if I have a disability?
You have the same healthcare rights as everyone else.
You will have a full health check with the prison doctor or nurse when you come into prison. They may ask you if you have a disability. This is a good time to tell them you have a disability so you can get the support you may need. If you tell them that you have any type of disability, your needs are more likely to be met
This is because, by law, the prison has a duty to accommodate your needs within reason if you have a disability. This is called a ‘reasonable accommodation’. However, if the ‘accommodation’ or support is very expensive or it is difficult to provide, the Prison Service may not have to provide it
You may also ask staff for support later on.
If a prison doctor says that you need remedial physical education or therapy, the Governor should, if possible, provide these services to you.
It is very important for your own safety that you say if you have a disability, including deafness or sight problems. This is so that you can be cared for properly if there is an emergency like a fire.
Please visit this page more for information on what your rights are if you have a disability. Prisoners With Disabilities
Will I be able to see a dentist?
Yes. All prisons have arrangements so that you can access the same standard of dental treatment that is available in the community. You can ask to be placed on the list for the dentist and, in some instances, the prison doctor or nurse may refer you.
Will I be protected by prison staff while I am in custody?
You should be, yes. The Governor and Prison Officers have a duty to keep you safe while you are in prison. The Governor must make sure the prison regime is orderly and that all prisoners are safe from harm, either from others or from themselves.
Prison Officers are responsible for the day to day well-being of all prisoners. A Prison Officer must tell the Governor or other higherranking officer immediately if they believe that you might need:
- medical care
- psychiatric care
- other assistance
- special care
- close observation
The Governor may decide to order you to be monitored if it is brought to their attention that you are:
- likely to harm yourself or someone else
- at risk of harm
- you pose a risk to security or order in the prison. (Rule 80)
This monitoring will last for as long as there is a risk. The details will be recorded.
What does removal ‘on grounds of order’ mean?
A Governor may decide ‘on grounds of order’ that you are not allowed to:
- take part in authorised structured activities, like education,
- take part in recreation with others, and/or
- associate with other prisoners. (Rule 62)
The Governor should only give this instruction if they believe that to allow you to do so, would result in a significant threat to the maintenanceand good order in the prison. This means that it would cause significant disruption or threaten safe and secure custody of you and others.
You should get written reasons explaining why the Governor made such a decision. A review of this decision should take place at least once every seven days after the original direction was given. You should be told about the result of this review.
The Governor should have written records of:
- any direction they give
- the period for which you will be removed from normal activities
- the reasons why the direction was given
- your views
- decision made after a review
If you are removed ‘on grounds of order’, the Governor should ask the doctor to visit you. If you have any medical condition, the doctor should keep it under regular review. The Governor should also inform the chaplain who should be able to visit you at any time.
If you are removed ‘on grounds of order’, the Governor should ask the doctor to visit you. If you have any medical condition, the doctor should keep it under regular review. The Governor should also inform the chaplain who should be able to visit you at any time.
What does it mean to be put ‘on protection’?
If, for some reason, you do not feel safe in the general prison population, you can ask to be put ‘on protection’. This means you would be separated from other prisoners. If the Governor becomes aware that you are at risk of harm, based on the information available they will decide whether or not to put you on protection. Therefore, you can be placed ‘on protection’ on either a voluntary or involuntary basis. (Rule 63)
If you are placed on protection, the Governor must keep a detailed record of your protection regime.
This must include:
- the reasons for placing you on protection
- the date and time it started
- any views you expressed on the matter
- the date and time the protection ends.
If I am on protection can I still have access to education and work facilities?
Generally, yes. If you are placed on protection, and the Governor thinks that it would be in your best interests, you can take part in supervised structured activity with other prisoners ‘on protection’.
However, if the threat to your safety is so large that you cannot mix with any other prisoners, you will only have access to a ‘restricted regime’. This means you may get as little as one hour of recreation or outdoor activity a day. All prisoners should have at least two hours out of their cell a day.
What is solitary confinement?
Solitary confinement is when you are held in a cell on your own or with a small number of other prisoners for 22 hours a day or more.
What are my rights if I am held in solitary confinement?
By law, you should have a daily minimum of two hours out of your cell. (Rule 27 ) During this time, you should have an opportunity for meaningful human contact with other people. This means you should have contact with another person close enough to you so you can have a conversation. The contact you have with other prisoners is at the discretion of the Governor.
When could I be placed in a special observation cell?
A special observation cell is a cell that has special safety features to make sure that a prisoner placed there is safe and cannot selfharm. If staff are concerned that you may hurt yourself or others, the Governor may decide to place you in this type of cell for up to 24 hours. They will only do this if there is nothing else they can do to avoid such harm. (Rule 64)
In 2005, the Irish Prison Service (IPS) decided that ‘special cells’ would be divided into two types:
- safety observation cells
- close supervision cells.
The Governor should only put you in a safety observation cell if they believe:
- you need frequent observation for medical reasons, or
- you are a danger to yourself, for example, because you are at risk of self-harm or suicide.
A safety observation cell has special features, furnishings and ways to observe those inside to improve their safety. You should not be put in one of these cells unless it is necessary for your immediate well-being. It is not appropriate for prison authorities to put you in a safety observation cell for any other reason.
As soon as possible after you are put in a safety observation cell, a prison doctor should examine you. If the prison doctor advises that you should be put somewhere else, the Governor must review the matter. If the Governor goes against the advice of the prison doctor, they must write down the reasons for this.
If you have been disruptive or if you pose a danger to others, you may be put in a close supervision cell. This is a cell with special features, furnishings and methods of observation. These improve safety for yourself and other prisoners and help to keep good order in the prison. As soon as possible after you are put in a close supervision cell, a prison doctor should examine you
You should not be held in a special observation cell as a punishment.
What are my rights if I am placed in a special observation cell?
The Governor should record:
- the decision to place you in the cell
- the date and time you were placed in the cell
- the reasons why the decision was given
- the date and time of when you left the cell
- all visits you receive during the period.
The Governor should also record any request you make to receive a visit from the:
- healthcare professional
- legal advisor
and their response to such request
Any other significant requests you make should also be recorded.
If you are in a special observation cell, the following should happen:
- a prison doctor should examine you as soon as possible
- the Governor and the doctor should visit you in a special observation cell at least once a day
You may be asked to remove your clothing including underwear when you are placed in a special observation cell. The Governor may ask you this to ensure your own safety from self-harm. However, if your clothes have to be removed for your safety they should be removed with regard to your dignity.
You should not be left without clothes in a special observation cell, however, you may be provided with different clothing that won’t pose a risk to your own safety.
Prison Officer Check
A Prison Officer should check on you every 15 minutes when you are being held in a special observation cell.
Governor Must Authorise any Time Over 24 Hours
You can only be held in a special observation cell for more than 24 hours if the Governor directs it, having consulted the prison doctor and considered all other relevant matters.
Up to Five Days
Generally, the longest you can be held in a special observation cell is five days. This time period can only be extended with the written permission of the Director General of the Irish Prison Service.
Are Prison Officers allowed to use force against me?
Prison Officers may only use force when it is strictly necessary and proportionate so that they can keep or restore order or safe and secure custody. (Rule 93) Prison staff may use restraint if they are concerned you may:
- injure yourself or others
- cause significant damage to property. (Rule 65)
A Prison Officer should not hit you unless it is to prevent injury to themselves or others. If you suffer excessive force, you should immediately report the matter to the Governor who will start an investigation and report the matter to the Gardaí.
In such circumstances, the Prison Officer who used force on you must write to the Governor and explain why they used such force and how much force they used. If force is used on you, the Governor should make sure that you are examined by a healthcare professional as soon as possible after the event.
You may also report the matter to the:
- Minister for Justice
- Office of the Inspector of Prisons
- European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT)
- UN Committee against Torture.
You could also speak to your solicitor about taking a legal action against the Prison Officer and the prison authorities.
Prison Procedures for Transfer, Temporary Release, Remission and Parole
What is the procedure for being transferred?
Each prison services a particular court area. When you are sentenced to prison, you will be committed to the prison named for the court area where you appeared during your case. The Minister for Justice may change the prison where you are to serve your sentence.
As a prisoner, you have no legal right to serve your sentence in the prison of your choice. However, you can apply to the Governor to ask for a transfer to another prison if you have a good reason. The Prison Service will try to make sure you are in a prison as close to your home as possible. The Irish Prison Service will also decide to transfer you from one prison to another.
If you are a foreign national and you wish to return to your own country, you may apply to the Minister for Justice for a transfer to serve your sentence in your home state. There is no guarantee that your application will be accepted. It is up to the Minister for Justice to decide.
Sometimes you may be transferred to another prison, the Central Mental Hospital or another place like a hospital for medical treatment. Other times you may be released on temporary release. If any of these transfers happen, the Governor must record the date and on whose order you were transferred or released. (Rule 60)
If you are transferred from one prison to another prison, you should be allowed, as soon as possible, to let a family member or friend know that you have been transferred. (Rule 5)
What happens when I am released, including temporary release?
The Minister for Justice decides whether or not to grant you a temporary release. Temporary release means that you will be allowed to leave the prison for a certain period of time set by the Governor. The Minister will consider a number of things when deciding to grant temporary release.
- the offence you committed
- your family circumstances
- your attitude to rehabilitation
- your employment and training skills.
Temporary release is usually granted in these three circumstances:
- on compassionate grounds
- day-to-day and weekly release
- reviewable temporary release towards the end of your sentence.
Temporary Release on Compassionate Grounds
Temporary release on compassionate grounds may be granted if there is an emergency in your family, for example where someone has died or is seriously ill. You may also be released to go to special family occasions like weddings, christenings or communions, or to deal with family matters.
Day-to-day and Weekly Release
Day-to-day and weekly release is usually granted to allow you to do work outside the prison. In some circumstances a Prison Officer will go with you (‘under escort’), or you may go alone.
Reviewable Temporary Release
Reviewable temporary release towards the end of your sentence is like parole. It means early release from prison towards the end of your sentence. ‘Reviewable temporary release’ usually depends on certain conditions being met. In most cases, these may include a condition that you report to a Garda station on a regular basis. Of course, if you don’t meet the conditions, the Gardaí may arrest and return you to prison immediately.
When Temporary Release is Not Allowed
The Minister will not release you for one or more of the reasons listed previously if they feel it is not appropriate to do so. The Minister may be unable to release you if it is against the law. You will not be allowed temporary release if you are charged or convicted of an offence and remanded to appear at a future court hearing.
Providing You with Practical Things for Temporary Release
If you are granted temporary release, the Governor must make sure that you have sufficient means to travel to your destination. If you have no clothes of your own or if your own clothes are unsuitable, you should be provided with clothes suitable to your age and gender. If you don’t have enough money to get by when you’re out on temporary release, the Governor should, if possible, provide you with as much as they think you’ll need.
If I get temporary release, must I agree to certain things?
Yes. The Minister for Justice can rule that a person on temporary release must:
- stay at a particular location, or
- stay away from a particular location, or
There may by other rules attached to your temporary release. If you are granted temporary release you must agree with any conditions that are set. For example, you might have to:
- go to a particular place each day or each week, like a Garda station
- avoid going to certain places or types of places.
What would happen if I did not follow all the conditions?
If you break the conditions of your temporary release, you may be arrested without warrant and returned to prison. You may not be granted temporary release again. You might also be punished for not having followed the rules. If you do not return when your period of temporary release ends, you could be charged with being ‘unlawfully at large’. This means that you are out of prison when you should be in prison.
Other than temporary release, can I be released early from prison?
Yes, you can, however, there is no right to early release. Currently, there are programmes that allow you to be released early from prison (although you will still have to serve the rest of your sentence in the community).
For example, if you are serving a prison sentence of between three and 12 months, you may qualify to take part in the Community Support Scheme. Under the Community Support Scheme, you can be released from prison and supported in reintegrating back into the community.
If you are serving a sentence of more than one year and fewer than eight years, you may qualify for Community Return. Under the Community Return Programme, you can be released from prison after serving at least half of your sentence. You complete the rest of your sentence by carrying out community service.
The Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service decide if you are suitable for these programmes.
How do I get remission?
The term ‘remission’ describes the early and complete end of your sentence. It is based on good behaviour during the sentence. Remission means you can earn up to one quarter off your whole sentence by good behaviour.
For example, if your sentence is 24 months long, remission means you can get out in 18 months, six months earlier.
You cannot get remission if you are serving a life sentence or you are in prison because of contempt of court. In practice, one quarter remission is automatic if you do not commit an offence in prison. This is called ‘standard’ remission.
What is enhanced remission?
The Minister for Justice decides whether or not to grant enhanced remission , which you need to apply for. Enhanced remission would reduce your sentence by up to one third. A third off a 24-month sentence would mean you could leave prison eight months earlier. For this type of remission, you must show further good behaviour by getting involved in authorised structured activities. The Minister must be satisfied that you are less likely to re-offend and you are better able to go back into the community.
The Minister must inform you in writing if you are going to get enhanced remission and by how much they will reduce your sentence. If the Minister refuses to give you enhanced remission, they must write to you telling you why. The Minister may consider the following circumstances when deciding whether or not to give you enhanced remission.
1. Structured Activities
How much and in what way you took part in structured activities in prison, for example, in education.
2. Your Behaviour
If you took action to address your offending behaviour.
3. Seriousness of Your Offence
The nature and gravity of the offence for which you are serving a prison sentence.
4. Original Sentence
Your original sentence and any recommendations made by the court that sentenced you.
5. How Long You’ve Served
The period of the sentence served by you so far.
6. Any Threats You Pose
The potential threat to the safety and security of members of the public (including the victim of the offence) if you were released from prison.
7. Other Offences
If you were convicted for any other offence before being convicted of the offence that you are now serving a sentence for.
8. Your Behaviour
Your behaviour while in prison or during a period of temporary release.
9. Any Reports
Any report of, or recommendation made by:
- the Governor of the prison concerned, or the person temporarily carrying out the role of the Governor
- An Garda Síochána
- a probation officer
- any other person the Minister thinks may help them to decide about your application.
What is parole and how does the parole system work?
The term ‘parole’ means temporary release for people serving longer sentences, including life sentences. Usually, the Board tries to review individual cases half-way through your sentence or after seven years, whichever comes first.
The Parole Board’s main role is to:
- manage long-term prison sentences so that prisoners are given the best opportunity to rehabilitate themselves
- advise the Minister for Justice on what it thinks is the best way to manage a prisoner’s sentence.
Before the Parole Board can review your case the Minister for Justice must first refer it to them. The Irish Prison Service will tell the Parole Board if your case should be reviewed in the next 18 months.
If you are on temporary release (parole) you are ‘on licence’. This means that if you are given parole or temporary release, there may be conditions that apply to your release. This could include supervision by the Probation Service.
- be called back into prison
- have to serve the rest of your sentence in prison rather than in the community
- have to wait for another parole review.
What influences the Parole Board’s recommendation on my release?
The safety of the public is top of the Parole Board’s priorities. The board advises the Minister of your progress to date. The main factors taken into account are the following
The type of offence and the seriousness of it.
The sentence you’re serving and any recommendations made by the Judge. How much of the sentence you have served at the time of the review.
The level of threat you pose to the safety of the public should you be released.
Risk of Further Offence
How high the risk is of you committing further offences while you’re on temporary release or parole.
Risk of Absconding
The risk of you failing to return to custody from any period of temporary release.
Your conduct while in prison
Your Use of Therapeutic Services
How much you have used the therapeutic services available, like counselling or courses related to the offence committed. And how likely it is that temporary release would improve your prospects of safely reintegrating when you go back into your community.
Minister Makes Final Decision
The Minister for Justice makes the final decision on parole, based on the recommendations of the Parole Board. The Minister usually, but not always,accepts the recommendations of the Parole Board.
Parole Act 2019: will allow Parole Board to make binding decisions
A new law, the Parole Act 2019, was signed into law in July 2019 but it is not yet in operation (as of December 2020).
Under the Parole Act 2019, once it is in operation, the Parole Board will make binding decisions, independently of the Minister, about:
- the release of life-sentenced prisoners.
The Minister for Justice will decide when this new law will come into operation. A significant change under the new law will be that if you are serving a life sentence, your first parole review will take place after serving 12 years of your sentence.
If I am granted parole, will I be supervised in the community?
Yes. The Probation Service will supervise you. If you are released on parole from a life sentence and commit a further offence, you will:
- be arrested again
- put back in prison
- have to go through the whole process again before the Parole Board in the future
Are there any offences that the parole process does not cover?
Yes. The parole process will not cover you if you are serving a sentence for certain offences like, murder or attempted murder:
- of a Garda or a member of the Prison Service in the course of their duties
- for political purposes, of the head of a foreign state or a diplomat
- while supporting the activities of an unlawful organisation.
If you are serving a mandatory minimum sentence, you will not qualify for parole until you have served the minimum period. You can’t get parole if you are detained by the Central Mental Hospital or in another designated psychiatric centre.
If I am not granted parole, when will I be eligible for parole again?
The decision to refuse parole must be given to you in writing. It must give you the reason for the decision. It must also give a date, which can’t be more than two years from the date of the initial decision, on which you will become eligible for parole review again.
You cannot reapply for parole until the date chosen by the Parole Board. The Board can include recommendations in the report about how you and the prison can manage your sentence, so that your future application will be successful.
Prepping For Release
How can I prepare for going back into the community?
If the Probation Service is to supervise you after your release, Probation Officers working in your prison can help you to prepare for life after release.
They can give you information and put you in contact with things outside the prison like:
- social services
- training and treatment programmes – individual and groups.
Probation Officers can also help you to reduce the risk of reoffending by guiding you on how to manage your:
- personal affairs.
Probation Officers can also help you keep in contact with your family and community during your time in prison.
They should work under the Governor’s direction to make sure that ‘sentence management plans’ are made and carried out. These should include plans for easing you back into society.
The Probation Service may supervise you after your release or it may not. It depends. If the Probation Service is not going to supervise you after your release and Probation Officers in the prison can’t help, you can speak to a chaplain or other prison services like an Integrated Sentence Management Co-ordinator. They may be able to help you prepare for your release.
What happens if I don’t have anywhere to go when I get out?
If you don’t have a place to go when you are released from prison, or you don’t have a family member or friend who can put you up, talk to the:
- Probation Officer
- relevant community-based organisations
- a chaplain at the prison
- Resettlement Co-ordinator.
They might be able to help you or to put you in contact with hostel accommodation. The Resettlement Co-ordinator may be able to help sentenced prisoners apply for social housing support. They may also be able to help these prisoners apply for an emergency medical card. This card will be given to prisoners who qualify for it when they are being released.
To find out information about how to access homeless services, read the Citizens Information Service release booklet in the library for remand prisoners. Sometimes Chaplains will help remand prisoners to connect with the local authority, if the release date is known. Local authorities can sometimes help to get housing for prisoners.