Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

6: Open prison provision (2019)

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 outside prison.

Current context:

Open provision comprises 6.7% of bed capacity of the prison estate in Ireland, the same rate as 2018 and lower than in preceding years. One welcome development has been the opening of a new step-down facility for women leaving prison.[172] However, there continues to be no open provision for women within the prison estate.

There are two open prisons for males: Loughan House in Co. Cavan and Shelton Abbey in Co. Wicklow. Both prisons have strong links to the community. For example in Shelton Abbey, half of its residents leave on a daily basis to attend work, volunteer or participate in educational programmes. Shelton Abbey is currently undergoing renovation to ensure that its dormitory rooms allow for privacy. One limitation is that Shelton Abbey holds approximately 20% of individuals serving life sentences, however its low operating capacity means it does not qualify for onsite medical and psychiatric services.[173]

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 6

Indicator S6.1: Open provision in the prison estate.

Open provision has represented only 6.7% of the entire prison estate since April 2017, when the Training Unit semi-open prison was closed.


There has been no increase in open provision across the prison estate in 2018–2019. The lack of an open prison for women serving long sentences is a significant gap in supports regarding the readjustment process to life outside prison. Despite it being a recommendation made by the Penal Policy Review Group (2014), no open prison for men in an urban area has been established.[174]

The limited access to open prisons, particularly in the context of the growing number of prisoners serving longer and life sentences (as identified in Standard 2) is a significant gap in supports aimed at minimising the institutionalisation effects of a closed prison environment on an increasing number of prisoners, and helping people to gradually reintegrate into society.

Status of Standard 6: No change

Progressive Practice:

Open prisons in Iceland

Overall, Iceland has five prisons, housing fewer than 200 prisoners. Two of these five prisons are open. In Kviabryggja (open prison) there is little security around the prison walls. Emphasis is placed on prisoners and staff doing activities together; this includes communal dining. Prisoners have the opportunity to shop and cook for themselves. They have their own room with access to the internet (with some restrictions) and a mobile phone. The prison is viewed as a community with no more than 20 prisoners and three staff. The prison population is mixed, and includes female prisoners, foreign prisoners, older prisoners and prisoners with disabilities.[175]

Actions required:

Action 6.1: The Department of Justice and Equality and the IPS should establish an open prison for women, in particular for the small number of women who are serving long sentences.
Action 6.2: The Department of Justice and Equality and the IPS should establish an open prison in an urban area for men; this should be matched with a reduction in closed prison spaces.


Irish Penal Reform Trust


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