Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

6: Open prison provision

Standard 6:

Open prisons comprise 30%–35% of the prison estate.


Open prisons differ from closed prisons in their philosophy. Open prisons have many benefits including a reduced likelihood of institutionalisation, and provide for a gradual transition to life on the outside.

Current context:

Following the closure of the semi-open facility, the Training Unit, in April 2017, [246] open provision in Ireland currently comprises only 6.7% of the prison estate. There is currently no open prison for women. Plans for open-provision and low-security regimes are included in the Irish Prison Service Capital Strategy. [247] The Masterplan of Mountjoy Campus has yet to be published, despite a statement that the plan would be published in Autumn 2016. [248]

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 6

Indicator S6.1: Open provision in the prison estate: Provision remains the same in mid-2018 as in mid- 2017 at 6.7%.

Progressive Practice:

Open Prisons: Finland and Denmark

In Finland, the daily proportion of prisoners in open prisons is almost 40%. [249] In Denmark the number of sentenced men in open prisons exceeds the number of men in closed prisons; [250] for example, average occupancy of sentenced prisoners in closed prisons was 884 compared to 1,309 in open prisons in 2012. [251]

Bastoy Open Prison, Norway

Bastoy Open Prison facilitates 115 prisoners and has 69 employees. [252] Bastoy is an example of a prison that reflects the CoE principle that prison life should reflect community life. [253] There are ‘pod’ communities within the prison. Houses accommodate up to six people. Every prisoner has their own bedroom and shares communal facilities.

Bastoy is described as an ‘ecological’ prison where prisoners help run the farm, undergo training programmes, and prepare for release. Prisoners can apply for a place in Bastoy when they have up to five years left of their sentence. [254] Any type of offender can apply as long as they meet criteria around motivation to change. [255]

Prison officers receive three years’ training. The relationship between prison officers and prisoners is central to Bastoy’s success. Only five prison officers stay on the island overnight. [256] Bastoy Prison is known for its low re-offending rate of 16%, compared to the European average of 70%. [257] A ‘Continuing Care’ policy is in place whereby everyone released has access to services and is provided with a job 18 months prior to leaving prison. [258]

One reason given for the success of the penal system in Norway is that it is largely left to the stakeholder experts to examine penal policy, with little political interference.

Actions required:

Action 6.1: The Irish Prison Service should increase open prison provision across the estate, with a goal of similar rates to the Nordic countries, matched with a reduction in closed prison provision.
Action 6.2: The Mountjoy Campus Masterplan should be published.
Action 6.3: The Irish Prison Service should establish open prison provision for women.


IPRT Irish Penal Reform Trust


Copyright 2019 Irish Penal Reform Trust. CHY number: 11091

viewed here