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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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:

  1. take part in authorised structured activities, like education,
  2. take part in recreation with others, and/or
  3. 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 [1]) 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:

  • doctor
  • psychologist
  • chaplain
  • 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.