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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Prison Discipline

What could happen if I don’t behave properly in prison?

If you don’t behave properly in prison, you could be in breach of prison discipline. This means you might be punished for disobeying (not following) the rules of the prison. This could happen if, for example, you:

  • disobey lawful orders
  • drink alcohol or take illegal drugs
  • assault someone
  • cause damage to property
  • make false allegations (statement or claim) against any Prison Officer
  • have prohibited items in your possession
  • use abusive, threatening or racist language
  • set fire to any part of the prison
  • leave your cell or any prison area without permission.

A Prison Officer must report any breach of prison discipline to the Governor or to a Prison Officer of higher rank as soon as they become aware of it.

P19 Inquiry Form

The Governor does not have to hold an official inquiry into the breach of discipline, but if no inquiry takes place, the reason for this should be recorded. However, where the Governor chooses to hold an inquiry into your behaviour, they should write to tell you this, using a form traditionally called a P19.

You will have the right to attend the hearing. This should take place within seven days of the Governor’s decision to hold the inquiry. You should be:

  • told what you are supposed to have done wrong
  • given an opportunity to examine or have explained to you any evidence that supports the allegation.

If you want to respond to the allegation, you can. If the Governor agrees, you should be able to call witnesses. You must give notice that you want to call such witnesses. You may also question witnesses through the Governor.

If the Governor is going to impose a penalty (punishment), you can make a plea in mitigation – give information that might make the punishment less severe.

If you are a foreign national, the Governor should, if necessary and possible, arrange for an interpreter to be present during the inquiry into your alleged (stated or claimed) breach of discipline.

If I am found guilty of a breach of discipline, how might I be punished?

You may:

  • receive a caution (a warning)
  • be confined in a cell (other than a special observation cell, which should only be used for medical purposes) for up to three days
  • lose up to 14 days remission
  • lose certain privileges – for a maximum of 60 days.

This temporary loss of privileges could include penalties like not being allowed to:

  • access recreation time
  • study
  • send letters
  • spend money
  • make phone calls
  • receive ordinary visits from anyone other than a family member.

You are still allowed ordinary visits from members of your family and professional visits from:

  • solicitors
  • chaplains
  • doctors
  • the Visiting Committee
  • the Inspector of Prisons
  • the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) (CPT)
  • TDs (member of Irish Government)
  • Senators
  • the UN Committee against Torture
  • the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC).

However, the Governor may decide not to impose the penalty (except the loss of remission) for up to three months from when the inquiry ended. If they do, and you meet certain conditions in the meantime, you won’t be punished. If you don’t meet them, the Governor may direct that the penalty be imposed.

Are there any types of punishments that would violate my rights?

Yes. You should never suffer:

  • group punishment
  • a physical beating
  • punishment by putting you in a dark cell
  • punishment by putting you in a cell without enough heating or ventilation
  • any cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment
  • the use of restraints like shackles
  • be punished by being placed in a special observation cell
  • being deprived of food or sleep
  • a sanction (threat of penalty) for an unspecified period of time.

Can I appeal the findings of the inquiry? Can I appeal the sanction that is imposed?

Yes. If you are found guilty of a breach of prison discipline and you get a sanction, you can send a petition (write) to the Minister for Justice through the Governor within seven days to appeal:

  • the finding
  • the sanction or
  • both.

After checking with the Governor, the Minister will either uphold (support) the Governor’s finding on the sanction, or suspend or cancel the sanction.

A sanction can range from not being allowed to send or receive letters for a period of time, to the loss of 14 days of remission (possibility of early release). If you get the loss of 14 days of remission as a sanction, you can tell the Governor that you plan to appeal the decision to the Appeal Tribunal.

The Appeal Tribunal is made up of experienced practising barristers or solicitors. The Appeal Tribunal will hold a formal meeting (called a hearing) where they will consider if this sanction is fair or unfair. The Appeal Tribunal may invite written submissions (documents) from you and the Governor. You may go to the hearing and get legal aid, advice or representation (including possibly free legal aid) for the Appeal hearing.

The Appeal Tribunal may:

  • agree or disagree with (and overturn) the finding that you breached prison discipline
  • agree with or disagree with (and overturn) the sanction of loss of remission
  • reduce the loss of remission (from 14 days to fewer days)
  • substitute the loss of remission with another sanction (penalty).

The Appeal Tribunal should write to you to tell you about its decision.