Prisons in the Republic of Ireland

Since independence, the Republic of Ireland has enjoyed an extremely low rate of imprisonment in comparison with the rate when it was part of the United Kingdom. Recently, however, there has been considerable growth in its prison population. The Troubles in Northern Ireland led to a large spike in its prison population in the last third of the 20th century, which ended with the Belfast Agreement's early-release scheme.

Prisons in Northern Ireland are run by the Northern Ireland Prison Service.


In 1925, shortly after the establishment of the Irish Free State, the then Minister for Justice, Kevin O'Higgins, introduced legislation repealing the existing ability of grand juries to appoint visiting committees to prisons within the State. Instead, the authority to appoint the members of prison visiting committees was vested solely in the person of the Minister.[1][2] Similarly, the management of the prison system within the Irish Free State passed to the control of the Minister with the dissolution by statutory instrument of the General Prisons Board for Ireland (the G.P.B.) in 1928.[3] The G.P.B. had been an all-Ireland body. Thus, by this date, both the responsibility and control over the management and oversight of the prison service within the Irish Free State was held within the Minister's department.[4]

This situation remained unchanged until 1999 when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, John O'Donoghue, established the Irish Prison Service to which was delegated the task of managing the day-to-day running of the prison system.[5] Simultaneously in 1999 a Prisons Authority Interim Board was established and its members were appointed by the Minister in 2000. The purpose of this board was to advise the Director General and directors of the Irish Prison Service on the management of the penal system.[6] In 2002 the retired High Court Judge, Dermot Kinlen, was appointed the state's first Inspector of Irish Prisons.[7] However, none of these new bodies was ever established on a statutory basis despite indications to the contrary. Indeed, as recently as January 2011 Dermot Ahern informed the Dáil that:

In 2009 the Irish Prison Service had an annual budget of €379.319 million and it had a staff of 3,568 people.[9]

EuroPris and the European Union

Ireland is a member of the European Union and the EuroPris system. Being a member of this system requires you get rid of the death penalty and operate humane prisons. The goal of the Europris system is to ensure cooperation between European prison systems which aims to improve the lives of prisoner and their families, growing public safety and security, and reducing the re-offending rate.

Prison Services

The Irish prison system attempts to educate inmates and give them plenty of opportunities to avoid recidivism. The Irish prison system provides multiple forms of education including vocational, life skills, basic education, healthy living, and technology education. The Irish prison system also provides meth treatment facilities that covers at least 80% of the Irish prison population. They also ready the inmates for reintegration and resettlement back into society and provide adequate mental health and health services for the inmates.[10]

Prison population rate

The prison population within the Republic of Ireland per 100,000 inhabitants is just under 94.[11] The prison population of Ireland is 3,738. The prison rate is around seventy-eight individuals per every one hundred thousand people in the population. The proportions in the prison population are; 17.6% are pre-trial and remand prisoners, 4.2% are females, 1.0% is under the age of 18, and 13.3% of the prison population are foreign prisoners. The maximum number of prisoners the system can handle is 4,273; the prisons in Ireland are only 87.5% full. For 2017 the rates in pre-trial and female prisons both went up, the pre-trial prisoners went up to a rate of 17.6% and the female rate went up to 4.2%. The previous rates for female, 3.4% in 2015 and pre-trial prisoners was 14.6% in 2015. The remand and pre-trial rate increased by 3% and the female rate only increased by 0.8%. Since 2000 the lowest population the Irish prison system has had is 2,948 which was in 2000 and the highest rate was in 4,318 and this occurred in 2012.[12]

Prisons and prison population

There are 12 prisons in the Republic of Ireland with a total bed capacity of 4,106 as of 31 December 2009. The daily average number of prisoners in custody in 2009 was 3,881. However, most of these prisons currently operate at or above capacity.[13] On 25 January 2011 the prison population stood at 4,541. There were about 80 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants in October 2015,[11] and in Northern Ireland it was 78 per 100,000 in February 2016.[14]


In 2009 there were 15,425 committals to prisons within the Republic of Ireland, which is an increase of 13.8% on 2008 when the equivalent figure was 13,557. 12,339 individuals accounted for all the committals in 2009. 10,865 committals to Republic of Ireland prisons in 2009 followed sentencing.[15]

Cost of placement

The average cost to incarcerate a person in a prison in 2009 was €77,222. This was a decrease of 16.7% on the 2008 figure when the cost of incarceration was €92,717 on average.[16]

Active prisons

Prisons in the Republic of Ireland: Operational Capacity[17] and Daily Average Number of Prisoners in Custody 2009[18]
Prison Location Year Opened Type Security Sentenced Remand Age Range Special Features Servicing Area of Male Capacity Female Capacity Daily Average
Number (Male)
Daily Average
Number (Female)
Mountjoy Prison Dublin 7 1850 Closed Medium Y Y 18+ None Dublin City 650 0 632 0
Dóchas Centre Dublin 7 1999 Closed Medium Y Y 18+ None National (except Munster) 0 85 0 110
Cork Prison[19] Cork City 1972 Closed Medium Y N 18+ None Cork, Kerry, Waterford 272 0 298 0
Limerick Prison.[20] Mulgrave Street, Limerick 1822 Closed Medium Y Y 18+ None Males: Clare, Limerick, Tipperary. Females: Munster 290 20 298 22
Castlerea Prison[21] Castlerea, County Roscommon 1996 Closed Medium Y Y 18+ None Connacht, Cavan, Donegal, Longford 351 0 306 0
Cloverhill Prison[22] Cloverhill, Dublin 22 1999 Closed Medium N Y 18+ None Leinster (primarily) 431 0 438 0
Wheatfield Prison[23] Cloverhill, Dublin 22 1989 Closed Medium Y N 18+ None Louth, Meath, Monaghan, Wexford, Wicklow 430 0 426 0
Portlaoise Prison[24] Portlaoise, County Laois 1902 Closed High Y N 17+ For those sentenced in the Special Criminal Court; subversive crime National 399 0 119 0
Arbour Hill Prison[25] Dublin 7 1975 Closed Medium Y N 17+ Sexual offenders; long term sentences National 148 0 154 0
Midlands Prison[26] Portlaoise, County Laois 2000 Closed Medium Y Y 17+ None Carlow, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly, Westmeath 516 0 512 0
Loughan House[27] County Cavan 1973 Open Low Y N 18+ None National 150 0 129 0
Shelton Abbey[28] Arklow, County Wicklow 1973 Open Low Y N 19+ None National 100 0 94 0

One reason Ireland has a successful recidivism programme is the educational opportunities they provide while prisoners are serving a sentence. During a sentence, an inmate has access to a wide variety of classes, as well as personal tutoring services to help them succeed in their classes. These classes include home economics, art, pottery, photography, drama and music, crafts, technology, horticulture, and lastly science programs. There are also instructional technology courses available at certain facilities. If inmates do decide to attend classes, this allows them to be excused from some of the work duties that are required by the prison each day. All of this is provided through the Department of Justice and the Irish Vocational Education Committee. To decide what classes each inmate should enroll in, each inmate goes through an interviewing process. This helps the inmates because it gives them a personalized schedule that they would not be able to make on their own. Also, students are interviewed on a weekly basis to see if they are struggling in any classes. This allows the program to be more successful because if an inmate is having any trouble in their classes it is to be assessed right away so they can get the help they need to get back on track (Literacy Work in Prison).[29]


Formerly, children in Ireland (North and South) were detained in Industrial Schools or Reformatory Schools. Currently, within the Republic of Ireland, they are detained in institutions called Children Detention Schools. These detention schools are managed by the Irish Youth Justice Service. There are four facilities for the detention of "children", defined as boys under the age of 17 and girls under the age of 18:

  • Finglas Child and Adolescent Centre Children Detention School
  • Oberstown Children Detention Campus (separate boys' and girls' schools)
  • Trinity House School[30]

Defunct prisons

Statutory basis of the penal system in the Republic of Ireland

  • Children Act (2001)
  • Criminal Justice Act (1960)
  • Criminal Justice Act (1997)
  • Criminal Justice Act (2000)
  • Criminal Law Act (1997)
  • Detention of Offenders (Castlerea) Regulations (1998)
  • Detention of Offenders (Loughan House) Regulations (1973)
  • Detention of Offenders (Shanganagh Castle) Regulations (1970)
  • Detention of Offenders (Shelton Abbey) Regulations (1976)
  • Detention of Offenders (The Curragh) Regulations (1996)
  • Detention of Offenders (Training Unit) Regulations (1975)
  • ECHR Bill (2001)
  • General Provisions Board (1928)
  • Human Rights Commission Act (2000)
  • Illegal Immigrants Trafficking Act (2000)
  • Immigration Act (1999)
  • Immigration Act (2003)
  • Immigration Act (2004)
  • Medical Practitioners Act (1927)
  • Non-Fatal Offences Act (1997)
  • Ombudsman Act (1980)
  • Ombudsman for Children Act (2002)
  • Organisation of Working Time Regulations (1998)
  • Prison Act (1933)
  • Prison Act (1956)
  • Prison Act (1970)
  • Prison (Disciplinary Code for Officers) Rules (1996)
  • Prisoners Temporary Release Rules (1960)
  • Prisons Visiting Commitiees Act (1925
  • Prisons Visiting Committees Order (1925)
  • Refugee Act (1996)
  • Rules for the Government of Prisons (1947)
  • Rules for the Government of Prisons (1955)
  • Rules for the Government of Prisons (1976)
  • Rules for the Government of Prisons (1983)
  • Rules for the Government of Prisons (1987)
  • Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act (1989)
  • Social Welfare (Social Assistance Regulations) (1993)

See also


  1. Kilcommins, Shane; O'Donnell, Ian; O'Sullivan, Eoin; Vaughan, Barry (2004). Crime, punishment and the search for order in Ireland. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration. pp. 41–2. ISBN 1-904541-13-5.
  2. Prisons (Visiting Committees) Act, 1925.
  3. S.I. No. 79/1928 — General Prisons Board (Transfer of Functions) Order, 1928.
  4. Kilcommins, Shane; O'Donnell, Ian; O'Sullivan, Eoin; Vaughan, Barry (2004). Crime, punishment and the search for order in Ireland. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration. p. 43. ISBN 1-904541-13-5.
  5. Kilcommins, Shane; O'Donnell, Ian; O'Sullivan, Eoin; Vaughan, Barry (2004). Crime, punishment and the search for order in Ireland. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration. p. 240. ISBN 1-904541-13-5.
  6. Irish Prison Service. "Functions of Interim Prison Board". Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  7. Times Online (6 August 2007). "Obit.: Mr Justice Dermot Kinlen". The Times. London. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  8. House of the Oireachtas. "Written Answers – Irish Prison Service, Wednesday 12 January 2011". Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  9. Irish Prison Service (2010). Annual Report (PDF). Dublin. p. 8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 May 2011.
  10. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. Irish Penal Reform Trust. "Facts and Figures". Retrieved 21 February 2011.
  12. "Ireland, Republic of | World Prison Brief". Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  13. Irish Prison Service (2010). Annual Report (PDF). Dublin. pp. 3, 7. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 May 2011.
  14. "United Kingdom: Northern Ireland". World Prison Brief. Institute for Criminal Policy Research. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  15. Irish Prison Service (2010). Annual Report (PDF). Dublin. p. 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 May 2011.
  16. Irish Prison Service (2010). Annual Report (PDF). Dublin. p. 4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 May 2011.
  17. As these figures are for 2009 and there is an ongoing project of increasing prison capacity some of these figures are out of date. The most recent figures are available in the entries for individual prisons. As operational capacity is relative to actual prisoner numbers it is felt that it is necessary to keep both numbers coherent with each other. Therefore, the figures on this table will not be updated until the annual report for the 2010 year is issued which will give the capacity figures in relation to the average daily number of prisoners resident in a given institution.
  18. Irish Prison Service (2010). Annual Report (PDF). Dublin. pp. 10–12. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 May 2011.
  19. In 1806 a military barracks with a prison attached was opened by the British government on Rathmore Road, Cork City. Following independence in 1922 the control of this institution was taken over by the Irish Government and renamed Collins Barracks. It remained in the possession of the Irish Army until 1972 when it was handed over to the Department of Justice who returned the facility to use as a civil prison. It opened as a committal prison after considerable refurbishment in 1983. Irish Prisons Inspectorate (2005). Cork Prison Inspection: 13th – 17th September 2004. Dublin.
  20. Although built between 1815 and 1821 much of this facility has undergone extensive renovation of late. Many but not all of the old wings have been knocked down and replaced with new units providing for modern sanitation facilities. The original female section of the prison is generally not used except in cases of severe overcrowding, as a new modern female unit has been constructed. Irish Prisons Inspectorae (2007). Limerick Prison Inspection: 19th – 23rd June 2006 (PDF). Dublin.
  21. Castlerea opened as a district mental hospital from 1939. Operating for short periods as a tuberculosis sanitorium, it remained open as a hospital until 1994 during which time it was renamed as St. Patrick's Hospital. Following its closure as hospital a small number of prisoners were accepted into the facility in 1996 but work was not completed on the construction of the main cell blocks until 1998. Irish Prisons Inspectorate (2005). Castlerea Prison Inspection: 2nd – 9th June 2004 (PDF). Dublin.
  22. This is a purpose built "remand" prison and holds most of the male remand prisoners in the state. It is adjacent to the Wheatfield prison and shares many services with this institution. Inspectorate of Irish Prisons (2006). Cloverhill Prison Inspection: 22nd – 29th November 2005 (PDF). Dublin.
  23. Irish Prisons Inspectorate (2007). Wheatfield Prison Inspection: 10th – 12th and 19th – 21st April 2nd, 3rd, & 16th May 2006 (PDF). Dublin.
  24. The "E" block of Portlaoise Prison was built in 1902 on the site of an old county jail which had originally been built in 1830. The prison site consisted of 36 acres, 30 acres of which was farmland. Due to security concerns the farm ceased to function in the 1970s and currently hosts the Midlands Prison. From 1923 Portlaoise Prison was designated as convict prison (i.e. those sentenced to penal servitude understood as those serving sentences ranging from three years to life). In November 1972 the prison population then resident in the institution were dispersed to other institutions, principally Mountjoy Prison. In 1973 it ceased to be a convict prison and was instead designated as a high security prison to house subversive prisoners. In tandem with this change in status, army and police personnel were stationed in the grounds of the prison to augment the prison staff.Irish Prisons Inspectorate (2003). Portlaoise Prison Inspection: 9th, 10th, 11th December 2002 (PDF). Dublin. p. 2.Irish Prisons Inspectorate (2007). Portlaoise Prison Inspection: 6th – 10th November 2006 (PDF). Dublin. p. 6.
  25. the original Arbour Hill Hospital and Prison was built in 1797 at the site of the modern day St. Bricin's Military Hospital. The hospital was subsequently modified and renamed the King George V Hospital. The prison was moved to its current location in Arbour Hill and built between 1845–48. Following independence control of the institution was transferred to the Department of Defence. It served as a military prison until 1973 when the institution was passed over to the control of the Department of Justice and in 1975 it was reopened as a civilian prison. The majority of the prisoners in this institution have been convicted of sexual offences. Irish Prisons Inspectorate (2004). Report on Visit to Arbour Hill Prison Commencing the 3rd November 2003 to the 7th November 2003 (PDF). Dublin. p. 6.
  26. The Midlands Prison was built adjacent to Portlaoise Prison with which it shares some facilities. It was built as a public-private partnership for a cost of £46 million Irish punts. It is not a committal prison as all prisoners are transferred here from other prisons. Although there are a tiny number of prisoners in the population who are awaiting trial the vast majority of prisoners have been sentenced. Irish Prisons Inspectorate (2005). Midlands Prison Inspection: 27th – 1st July 2005 (PDF). Dublin. pp. 2–3.
  27. Loughan House was built in 1953 as a noviciate for the White Friar Fathers Missionary Congregation. In 1972 the 47 acre site was sold to the Department of Justice and it opened as a penal institute for young male offenders aged between sixteen and twenty-three years old in 1973. Dating from 1978 it was used as a juvenile detention centre for male offenders aged between twelve and sixteen years old. From 1983 it has served as an open centre for male prisoners aged over eighteen years old.Irish Prisons Inspectorate (2008). Report on an Inspection of Loughan House Open Centre 2008 (PDF). Dublin. p. 4.
  28. This institution, located near Arklow in County Wicklow, was previously the home of Lord and Lady Wicklow before it was acquired by the state in the early 1950s. In 1972 it was purchased by the Department of Justice and since 1973 it has continuously operated as an open detention centre. Irish Prisons Inspectorate (2006). Shelton Abbey Detention Centre Inspection: 10th Oct. – 15 Oct. – 2005 (PDF). Dublin.
  29. Kett, Mary (June 2001). "Literacy Work in Wheatfield Prison, Dublin, Ireland". JCE. 52: 63–67.
  30. Citizens Information. "Detention of Children and Young People". Retrieved 22 February 2011.


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