Prisoners are committed by a warrant issued by a court after a finding of guilt. They are delivered to the custody of the prison governor. The governor exercises the power to imprison inmates and restrict their liberties.
The objectives of the prison system are
- to provide an efficient and effective prison system containing keeping in custody those committed to prison by the courts
- promoting their physical and mental well-being while in custody and
- preparing them insofar as practicable to resume on release a constructive place in the community.
The present system seeks to follow modern standards and treat those in custody with justice, dignity, and respect to make available guidance, education, self-help for prisoner to promote standards including those set out in European prison standards.
Formerly the Department of Justice ran the prison service directly. A Prison Service has been established. It is contemplated that there should be a board of the prison agency and that the director general be responsible for the board on a day to day basis. An interim prisons board was been established for the prison authority.
An inspector of prisons was recommended to report on all prisons and detention places. The inspector would have a duty to raise concerns and issue an annual report.
The establishment of a parole board was recommended to advise Minister on releases. A consulted forum representing organisations involved in prisoner welfare, community groups, and victim supports was recommended in order to have an input into the management and development of the prison system.
The former prison rules (1947) were in force of the General Prisons (Ireland) Act 1877. See the separate note on the prison rules. The former rules were outdated and have been replaced.
The Minister for Justice may rules under the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1997 for the governance and regulations of prison. The provisions are now incorporated into the Prisons Act 2007. The power to make rules is now prescribed by that Act.
Regulations may provide for
- the duty and conduct of the governor and officers
- classification of prisoners
- treatment of prisoners including diet, clothing, maintenance, employment, instruction, discipline and correction
- provision of facilities including education, medical services, and services relating to general, moral, and physical welfare
- imposition of penalties by the governor of the prison and officers for breach of prison discipline
- remission for good conduct
- photographing and measuring of prisoners as well as taking fingerprints and palm prints.
Breach of prison rules may be challenged by way of judicial review. The courts are unlikely to intervene other than the most series of cases. T
he court are not likely to release a prisoner unless the breach of the rules is such as to endanger health or life or to subject him to inhuman or degrading treatment. It is not clear to what extent breach of the rules may be a ground for compensation. The English courts have not allowed compensation in such circumstances.
Prison Escort Services
The Prisons Act 2007 allows the Minister to enter arrangements in relation to prison escort services. This means transfer of prisons to and from one prison to another or to court. Any such persons must be certified as prison custody officers by the Minister for Justice.
There are provisions for consideration of the application to be appointed prison custody officer. The Minister may not issue a certificate unless the person is of good character, has undergone training, is capable of performing the functions and is a fit and proper person to do so. Certificates run in for 5 years. There are provisions for appeals against refusals. There are provisions for revocation of the certification.
The functions of prisoner custody officers are set out in the Prisons Act 2007. A prisoner custody officer has the power as prison officers while escorting prisoners. The prison custody officer must ensure that the prisoner does not escape, prevent commission of crime, ensures that he or she behaves in an orderly fashion and complies with court orders in relation to custody.
A prisoner custody officer when escorting a prisoner from court to a prison must give the governor of the prison an original of any order of the court committing the person, any medication or prescription for medication given in respect of the prisoner, and other health information of which he is aware.
Prison custody officers must comply with prison rules in relation to the performance of functions by prison officers. They may not disclose information obtained in the course of their employment. The Department of Justice is responsible for regulation of prisoner custody officer. They’ve powers to inspect, enter premises, inspect et cetera.
Disciplinary Enquiries & Sanctions
The 2007 Act permits prison governors to hold enquiries in relation to breach of prison discipline and to impose sanctions. A prisoner may petition the Minister against a finding or a sanction. A sanction which involves forfeiture of remission or portion of a sentence may be appealed to an independent appeal tribunal.
The governor of the prison may hold an enquiry into an alleged breach of discipline. The prisoner must be informed of the breach and the date and time of the enquiry. When a finding of breach of discipline is reached, the governor may impose one or more sanctions provided and record the finding and sanction. If no breach is found, it is recorded that the allegation has not been substantiated.
Possible sanctions include
- confinement in a cell for a period not exceeding 3 days,
- prohibition for a period not exceeding 60 days on engaging a specified structured or recreational activities,
- prohibition for a period not exceeding 60 days on receiving visits or sending or receiving letters
- prohibition for a period not exceeding 60 days on using money credit or other facilities,
- possessing articles which are permitted as a privilege,
- forfeiture of money from public funds,
- forfeiture of not more than 14 days remission or portion of a sentence, postponement for a period not exceeding 60 days of gratuity to which the prisoner would have been entitled under the present rules.
Where breach relates to attempted to escape, a requirement to wear prison clothes for not more than 60 days may be imposed. The governor may suspend sanctions for a period up to 3 months. Where the conditions of suspension are not complied with, the governor may direct that the sanction shall take effect immediately or from a specified date. Remission may be restored based on the prisoner’s good behaviour or performance of a meritorious act.
A governor has powers to take immediate measures in order to maintain order, discipline or prison security. The use of certain punishments such as collective or physical punishment, restraint, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, deprivation of food or drink, confinement in a special observation cell, sanctions of indeterminate duration and sanctions constituting cruel inhuman and degrading treatment are forbidden.
The 1997 Act also formally abolished whipping and the imposition of corporal punishment on prisoners, which was still on the statute books, but was not used.
Appeal / Petition
When setting a sanction, the , the governor must explain to the prisoner the right to have a petition transmitted to the Minister concerning the finding or sanctions. If the sanction consists of forfeiture of remission, the governor must explain following provision allowing for appeal.
A petition may be made within 7 days of the sanction been imposed to the Department of Justice. The Minister/Department may affirm, modify, or suspend or revoke the sanction.
Where the sanction is a forfeiture of remission of part of a sentence, the prisoner may appeal to the appeal tribunal. The appeal tribunal consists of a practising barrister or solicitor.
The governor and prisoner may make observations and submissions. The prisoner is notified of the date of the appeal hearing which he may attend. He may avail of legal advice and representation.
The tribunal may uphold or quash a finding or breach or vary or substitute a sanctions. There are powers to make regulations by which the Minister may allow for the grant of legal aid to prisoners to appeal to the appeal tribunal.
Work & Services
The national minimum wages do not apply to non-commercial activity or work engaged in by the prisoners under the supervision of the governor or persons in charge of the prison. This includes cleaning or kitchen work, educational training or work experience activities, and production of goods or services intended to raise funds for charitable purposes or are provided without charge or with nominal charge.
Prisoners must pay for certain requested services. The Minister may provide for charges to be made for goods and services that are not generally available to prisoners, including telephone calls, access to electronic devices, private medical treatment or escorts provided outside the prison for matters not related to the imprisonment. Payments by or deductions from prisoners for goods or services shall not be greater than the cost of providing those goods or services.
Controlled Temporary Release
The Minister may, on compassionate grounds, for reasons of assessing or facilitating a prisoner’s reintegration into society or to allow a prisoner assisting in the investigation of offence, order that a prisoner shall be taken to a specified person or place within the State for a specified purpose during a specified period and return at end of that period.
It may provide that the prisoner is to return immediately if he is not of good order, a breach of the peace occurs, or an attempt is made to escape. A prisoner absent from prison pursuant to an order above or other legislation or who is being brought to and from prison or court may be placed in the custody of a prison officer, a prison custody officer or a member of An Garda Síochána. This is deemed lawful custody.
The legislation allows for certain types of court applications by video link. The court may direct video link if it is satisfied that it does not prejudice the prisoner and the interest of justice did not require his presence so that the live video link allows the prisoner to participate in view and hear the proceedings. Circumstances must not exist which would warrant the prisoner’s physical presence in court. The prisoner is deemed to be present in court through the video link.
The legislation on video links allows for bail, free legal aid applications, certain applications in relation to proceedings on indictment, pre-trial applications in the District Court and other applications in appeals and subsequent proceedings. The provisions in relation to video links also applies to children detained in remand centres or detention schools.