Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

7: Humane prison conditions

Standard 7:

Every prisoner is provided with respect, dignity and humanity and has access to decent living conditions.


Prison conditions should not be viewed as additional punishment. Prisoners retain their human rights although their liberty has been taken. As highlighted by Penal Reform International: “Living conditions in a prison are among the chief factors determining a prisoner’s self-esteem and dignity.” [259] Good prison conditions are likely to reduce conflict and violence, and support a ‘healthy’ prison environment, which in turn improves the prospects of rehabilitation for individual prisoners.

Current context:

The standard of prison living conditions in Ireland can vary both within and across the prison estate. External insights into these conditions can be gained only through the timely publication of reports by independent external monitoring bodies, such as the Inspector of Prisons [260] , Prison Visiting Committees [261] and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 7

Indicator S7.1: Standards within the prison estate regarding: state of repair and cleanliness; natural light; ventilation and heating; sanitary facilities:

Conditions between prisons vary widely. While each Prison VC [262] publishes an annual report, these reports are not standardised and the quality varies. The most recent annual reports published by Visiting Committees were for 2016, a clear time lag in terms of reporting on current conditions.

The most recent VC report on Mountjoy Prison highlighted that:

prisoners also expressed frustration, hopelessness and at times anger about conditions of their custody including, prevalence of gang culture giving rise to the need for protection, widespread abuse of drugs in prison, lack of drug free environment in prison and drug free accommodation on release. [263]

The most recent VC report (2016) on Wheatfield Prison described the prison as an “excellent institution”. [264] However, the same report noted broken windows.

A number of issues were also raised by the VC in the Dóchas Centre, including: unacceptable conditions of the Dóchas Centre, as well as overcrowding. [265]

The Irish Prison Service has taken some steps to provide for more internal audits across the system, including the establishment of a National Infection Committee to assess the levels of hygiene across the prison estate. [266] The Irish Prison Service has introduced this type of audit to take place on a quarterly basis. [267]

Indicator S7.2: Prisoners’ access to a balanced diet, religious practice, legal representation, family contact, gratuity payments and tuckshop: There is a 28-day nutritionally advised menu cycle across the prison estate. [268] The Irish Prison Service has undertaken a review of tuckshop prices, which identified that prices have increased by 10% generally and 37% for cigarettes. [269] The gratuity rate is currently being reviewed. [270]

Progressive Practice:

International Practice: Prison Conditions Monitoring Index

The Centre for the Study of Democracy has created a Prison Conditions Monitoring Index (PCMI). [271] The purpose of the index is for prison governors to collect and promote the collection of comparable, official and detailed data for creating informed policies concerning prisons and prison populations. [272] The PCMI is composed of indicators [273] in the areas of:

(1) Living conditions
(2) Social work, free time and contacts with the outside world
(3) Security and safety
(4) Employment
(5) Healthcare.

The PCMI has been tested in a number of countries such as Bulgaria, Spain, Germany and Lithuania. While there have been issues with availability of data, it found that many of the prisons were unsatisfactory (though not at a critical level). [274]

Actions required:

Action 7.1 The Prison Service should carry out regular internal inspections to ensure that prisons comply with minimum human rights standards, rules, regulations and legislation. Applying a Prison Conditions Monitoring Index is one approach to assessing conditions between prisons and within prisons over time in order to identify learnings and good practice that could be replicated across the whole estate.


IPRT Irish Penal Reform Trust


Copyright 2019 Irish Penal Reform Trust. CHY number: 11091

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