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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84 Page PDF

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 [2]). 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 [5])

If you are a remand prisoner, you have a right to make at least five phone calls a week. (Rule 46 [4] (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 [4] (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 [8])

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 [4] (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 [4] (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?

Visitation Table
Type Of PrisonerYou 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
Sentenced1Governor can decide30 minutes
Remand3615 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 [1]) 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 [3])

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.

  • basic
  • standard
  • enhanced.

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