Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

16: Out-of-cell time

Standard 16:

Every prisoner spends a minimum of five hours a day engaged in structured meaningful activity for five days a week, in addition to a further minimum seven hours of out-of-cell time.


Time out of cell is crucial to support the principle of normalisation, highlighted by the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice:

The principle of “normalisation” has been spoken about for decades, including within Prison Service documentation. To make prison life more like that of life in the community. The current daily routine could not, in any way, be considered normal. [426]

Time out of cell is also of particular importance to facilitate and encourage prisoners to partake in meaningful activity during their sentence and has been identified as one indicator used to measure prison performance. [427] HM Inspectorate of Prisons has identified a number of standards associated with time out of cell. [428]

Current context:

In 2018, the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality recommended a minimum 12 hours’ out-of-cell time with meaningful activity. [429] Current out-of-cell time for ‘ordinary’ prisoners is up to eight hours in the Irish prison system. A typical regime was recently described as follows:

In general prison cells are unlocked at approximately 8.15am each morning for breakfast. Prisoners collect breakfast and return to cells, which are then locked from 8.45am to 9.15am. Cells are again unlocked for prisoners to attend work, school, visits and exercise. Prisoners return for lunch at 12:00pm and cells are locked at 12.30pm. Afternoon unlock commences at 2.15pm and prisoners return to structured activities in schools, workshops and visits. Evening tea is served from 4pm and cells are locked from 4.30pm to 5.20pm when evening recreation commences until all cells are locked at 7.30pm. This allows for total out cell time of up to 8 hours. [430]

The description above provides an account of the daily regime for the ‘ordinary’ prisoner. However, Indicator 16.1 outlined below shows a significant proportion of prisoners are on a restricted regime, which means severely restricted time out of cell, and which falls far short of this standard.

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 16

Indicator S16.1: Hours out-of-cell for all prisoners, including prisoners on a restricted regime: The latest Irish Prison Service Census report [431] shows that there are currently 536 prisoners on a ‘restricted regime’. [432] This amounts to approximately 13% of the prison population. [433] The vast majority of these prisoners (477 out of 536) were placed on protection voluntarily. [434]

Hours Locked-Up Number of Prisoners (July Census figures 2018) [435]
23 5
22 30
21 368
20 73
19 60

The above data shows a significant percentage of the prison population are on 21-hour lock up. 225 of these 368 prisoners were in Mountjoy Prison. [436]

While data on the lengths of time individual prisoners spend on a restricted regime is not regularly published, recent information provided in response to a parliamentary question highlights the excessive periods prisoners can be held on this type of regime, with more than 50 individual prisoners held on a restricted regime for more than a year. [437]

The current approach to separating factions within the estate has a significant impact on prison resources. [438] The impact of this on the daily regime of the prison environment creates logistical issues including staff redeployment but also impacts prisoners’ access to education and activities. [439] This issue has also been reported in both the most recent Mountjoy [440] and Cloverhill [441] Visiting Committee reports.

Indicator S16.2: Number of prisoners who have daily access to a minimum of five hours structured educational, vocational and work programmes, and publication of this information: While publication of data on this specific indicator is limited, data shows that:

Progressive Practice:

Using Sport to Address Conflict

A new report [444] just published in August 2018 identifies how sport can play a role in addressing conflict. The report recommends: “Bringing prisoners together for sport can resolve conflict. Governors should revise keep apart list policies and establishments should include gym staff in keep apart decision making.” [445] This is one possible approach that may create a ‘space’ for prisoners in addressing conflict with the support of professional mediators.

Actions required:

Action 16.1: The Irish Prison Service must ensure that all prisoners including those on a restricted regime have access to a minimum of five hours meaningful activity, in addition to further out-of-cell time by the end of 2018.
Action 16.2: The Inspector of Prisons should undertake a review of the current restricted regimes practice (including separation policies) to examine reasons and lengths of time, and propose solutions to reduce the number of prisoners held on restricted regimes, promoting and encouraging greater access to time out of cell for all prisoners.


IPRT Irish Penal Reform Trust


Copyright 2019 Irish Penal Reform Trust. CHY number: 11091

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