Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

9: Single-cell accommodation

Standard 9:

Every prisoner has access to single-cell accommodation.


It is important that prisoners have the choice of single-cell accommodation. Access to single-cell accommodation promotes a prisoner’s right to privacy, and helps reduce violence. The Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) identified that:

If prison represents the place where people in detention live, their cell and dormitory may be considered as their “home”. This is where they spend most of their time, at least at night, and often the entire day. The configuration and material conditions of their accommodation represent essential aspects to alleviate the harmful effects of deprivation of liberty. [284]

Current context:

The Joint Committee on Justice & Equality (2018) made a key recommendation that ‘Prisons should aim for an accommodation policy of one person, one cell, and the necessary resources should be made available to realise this aspiration.’ [285] In theory, prisons such as Dóchas women’s prison operate single-room occupancy. However, with increasing prisoner numbers, this is difficult to achieve in practice. The changemakers referred to earlier – such as the judiciary and the Probation Service – have a vital role to play in keeping prisoner numbers down so that access to single-cell accommodation is possible.

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 9

Indicator S9.1: The number of prisoners accommodated in a single cell: In 2017, according to the Irish Prison Service Census figures, 54% (2,040) of prisoners were accommodated in a single cell. [286] At the same time in 2018, according to the Irish Prison Service Census, 53% (2,047) of prisoners were accommodated in a single cell, a 1% decrease. [287] 682 cells accommodated two prisoners (1,364), 111 cells accommodated three prisoners (333) and 38 cells accommodated four or more prisoners (150). [288] The most recently published Census figures, [289] from July 2018, show that 2,054 (52%) were accommodated in single-cell accommodation, 738 cells accommodated two prisoners (1,476), 107 cells accommodated three prisoners (321 prisoners) and 28 cells accommodated four or more prisoners (116 prisoners).

Indicator S9.2: The proportion of single cells across the prison estate: Latest census figures [290] from July 2018 show that 52% (2,054) were accommodated in single-cell accommodation within the context of a prison population of 3,967.

Progressive Practice:

Single-Cell Accommodation

Denmark, the Netherlands and Iceland all provide single-cell accommodation for prisoners. [291]

Actions required:

Action 9.1 The Irish Prison Service should ensure that all prisoners have access to and choice of single-cell occupancy. Where this is not possible, a full cell-sharing risk assessment must always be carried out.
Action 9.2: Other criminal justice stakeholders must also continue to contribute to efforts to reduce prison numbers in order to achieve single-cell occupancy across the estate.


IPRT Irish Penal Reform Trust


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