Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

16: Out-of-cell time (2019)

Standard 16:

Every prisoner is unlocked for a minimum of 12 hours per day, including a minimum of five hours per day engaged in structured meaningful activity for five days a week.


Out-of-cell time is crucial to support the principle of normalisation. It is also of particular importance in facilitating and encouraging prisoners to partake in meaningful activity during their sentence. HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) has developed a number of standards associated with out-of-cell time.[342]

These include:

  • Prisoners have regular and predictable out-of-cell time that is sufficient to promote rehabilitation and mental well-being
  • Prisoners are expected and encouraged to use out-of-cell time constructively, including at weekends.
  • Prisoners, including inpatients, those on the basic regime and those in segregation, are able to spend at least one hour in the open air every day.
  • Prisoners benefit from regular access to a suitable library, library materials and additional learning resources that meet their needs.
  • Prisoners are encouraged to participate in physical education and fitness provision that meets their needs.
  • Prisoners can access creative activities that promote learning and well-being and support rehabilitation.

Current context:

In June 2019, 50 prisoners held a protest at Midlands prison.[343] This was in response to restrictions being introduced to prisoner time in the yard and access to other facilities, reportedly introduced as a result of lower staffing levels. The Minister of Justice and Equality stated that the current staff shortfall is 6% in Midlands Prison.[344]

Under the ‘regime management plan’, structured activities including exercise time, education classes and workshops would be set out according to staffing levels available on the day.[345] The Minister for Justice and Equality stated that all prisons have introduced a regime management plan in recent years, prioritising constructive out-of-cell activities – such as work and training, education and engagement with therapeutic services – over activities such as access to the yard.[346]

Staffing shortfalls and the impact on out-of-cell activities were previously highlighted by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons,[347] as well as a number of Prison Visiting Committee reports.[348]

The impact of limited out-of-cell time on the mental health of prisoners is highlighted by the Mountjoy Prison Visiting Committee:

Staff have frequently spoken of prisoners who have very limited time out of cell becoming increasingly distressed, depressed and withdrawn. In some instances, staff reported feeling helplessness, inadequate and frustrated at the lack of solution for this group of prisoners and the impact of the conditions of their care on their mental health.[350]

The importance of having access to purposeful activity has been thus described by the House of Commons Justice Committee:

The nature of regimes and restricted access to rehabilitative activities has a cyclical impact on the degradation of regimes and safety, owing to the boredom and frustration of prisoners enduring impoverished regimes, which can in turn lead to violence and self-harm. Regimes need to be reported upon in a meaningful way to enable monitoring of their operation, especially since they are key to rehabilitation. Staffing levels mean many prisons are not delivering their intended regimes.[351]

There continues to be a high number of prisoners held on a restricted regime.[352] In April 2019, there were 577 prisoners on a restricted regime.[353] This marked an increase from 430 in April 2017.[354] In July 2019, 584 prisoners were on a restricted regime.[355] The Mountjoy Prison Visiting Committee has outlined its serious concerns at the potential impacts of restricted regimes:

The Committee is concerned that the out-of-cell time of some prisoners on a restricted regime is so reduced that their rights are severely restricted, their mental health and psychological wellbeing is at risk and a number are becoming increasingly vulnerable.[356]

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 16

Indicator S16.1: Hours out-of-cell for all prisoners, including prisoners on a restricted regime.

In general, standard out-of-cell time for prisoners is typically up to eight hours a day (dependent on staffing issues). The standard out-of-cell time for prisoners on a restricted regime is a maximum of five hours or less a day.

The numbers illustrated above are taken from IPS, Census of Restricted Regime reports.

Indicator S16.2: The number of prisoners who have daily access to a minimum of five hours structured educational, vocational and work programmes, and publication of this information.

On 30 April 2019, 577 prisoners were on a restricted regime, among a daily population of 3,981; therefore, according to information received from the IPS, 3,404 prisoners would have had daily access (where available) to a minimum of five hours structured education, vocational and work programmes.[357]


The lack of published data on out-of-cell time for the general prison population means it is not possible to fully ascertain trends on access to meaningful and purposeful activity. Information from 2017 highlighted the extent to which education centres were closed across the prison estate due to the unavailability of prison staff.[358] A recommendation made by the House of Commons Justice Committee for England and Wales could be usefully replicated in Ireland, whereby the IPS would be required to provide regular updates on the extent to which prisons are able to fully operate their regimes.[359] Furthermore, in the development of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons’ Inspection Framework (see Standard 25), the HMIP standards relating to out of cell time are worth replicating.

The Mountjoy Prison Visiting Committee has highlighted the impact of restricted regimes on individuals, and recommended that the current IPS census include an indicator of the duration of time prisoners are spending on a restricted regime.[360] This should be considered.

Status of Standard 16: Regress

Progressive Practice:

Building design, England

A survey of men and staff in HMP Berwyn in Wales, cited in a new report on the importance of building design of prisons, showed that 95% of participants felt the ‘ability to move around’ had the most positive impact on people’s wellbeing.[361] Prisoners in HMP Berwyn are allowed to lock and unlock their own cells.[362]

Halden Prison, Norway

Halden Prison (high security) in Norway has been referred to as one of the world’s most humane prisons. Prisoners are unlocked at 7:30am and locked up for the night at 8:30pm, providing 13 hours of out-of-cell time during the day. During this time, they are encouraged to attend work and educational activities, with a daily payment made to those who leave their cell.[363]

Actions required:

Action 16.1: The IPS should publish data on the extent to which prisons are able to fully operate their general regime, including: number of prisoners who have daily access to a minimum of five hours structured educational, vocational and work programmes; and the number of prisoners who have 12 hours’ out-of-cell time.
Action 16.2: The development of the OiP inspection framework for prisons should consider standards related to out-of-cell time.


Irish Penal Reform Trust


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