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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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

Your Details

First, the officer will bring you to the prison reception area where your details will be written down. (Rule 4)

These details include your:

  • name
  • address
  • date of birth
  • closest relative
  • occupation
  • religion
  • reason you are being sent to prison (‘reason for committal’)
  • date and time of your admission
  • date you are to be released.

Physical Details

You will be weighed and measured. Details of any marks or scars on your body will be put in your personal prison file.

Family Contact

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:

  1. were ever in prison before
  2. take drugs
  3. were ever in a mental health facility like a closed hospital
  4. ever self-harmed
  5. are feeling suicidal
  6. 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:

  • hat
  • overcoat
  • jacket
  • 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:

  • measurements
  • photograph
  • fingerprints
  • 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.

Governor's Duties

The Governor should protect and uphold the human rights of all prisoners. They should make sure you understand your:

  • rights
  • duties
  • privileges.

The Governor should make sure that you are not discriminated against because of:

  • gender
  • marital status
  • family status
  • age
  • disability
  • sexual orientation
  • race
  • religion
  • 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
  • injuries
  • disability.

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:

  • name
  • 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.