Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

18: Life skills (2019)

Standard 18:

Prisoners are encouraged and facilitated to develop and maintain life skills while in prison.


Prisoners must be encouraged to develop and maintain life skills and exercise personal responsibility while in prison, particularly those serving long sentences, including life imprisonment.[375] The development of life skills is also an important opportunity for many people serving shorter sentences, who might not have had a chance to gain these skills previously.

Prisoners must be able to work and undertake regular responsibilities, such as preparation of foods, cooking, cleaning and maintenance.

Current context:

Life skills programmes are available across the prison estate.[376] The content and delivery of these programmes can vary from career guidance to ‘soft skills’ programmes.

The IPS has established the concept of ‘Independent Living Skills Units’. This is defined by the IPS as a specific area within a closed prison that offer individuals known to be at high risk of institutionalisation (i.e. life sentence prisoners, those serving long sentences) the opportunity to live more independently.[377] IPRT’s view is that ILSUs are an important innovation in the prison system, and should be extended across all closed prisons.

ILSUs provide an opportunity for prisoners to gradually prepare for the outside world; for example, by preparing meals for themselves. These are also important units for developing skills for those who may be less likely to access an open prison for a number of reasons; for example, those on protection.

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 18

Indicator S18.1: The number of ILSUs in the closed prison estate.

There is one ILSU in Wheatfield Prison.[378] There is also an Independent Living Landing in Midlands Prison.[379]

Indicator S18.2: The number of prisoners across the closed prison estate who have access to communal dining.

On 6 June 2019 (according to the IPS), 426 prisoners across the prison estate had access to communal dining.

Prisoners with access to communal dining, 2019[380]

Prison Prisoners with access to communal dining, 6 June 2019 (n.)
Loughan House 98
The Drove Castlerea 37
Shelton Abbey 109
Midlands 20
ILSU, Wheatfield Place of Detention 17
Progression Unit 13
Dóchas 132
Total 426

In addition to the numbers outlined above, within each closed prison between 10 and 20 prisoners work in prison kitchens, with access to communal dining.[381]

Indicator S18.3: The number of prisoners that have access to life skills courses and the number of those availing of those courses.[382] (new)

According to data received from the IPS, 12 prisons have some type of life skills courses available. However, the number of prisoners availing of these courses has not been provided.

Indicator S18.4: Number of prisoners who have access to job skills courses. (new)

This information was not provided. However, the IPS highlights that job skills courses are available throughout the estate.


There appears to have been little change in the numbers of prisoners with access to more independent living arrangements. No new ILSU was opened over 2018–2019, and there has been a decrease in the number of prisoners accessing communal dining.[383] An information-mapping exercise is required to identify the number of prisoners accessing job and life skills courses, and the impact of such courses. In order for prisoners to progress from a closed to open prison environment, a graduated approach is required whereby prisoners can avail of supports in maintaining or developing skills in the closed prison environments.

Status of Standard 18: No change

Actions required:

Action 18.1: The IPS and the Department of Justice and Equality should evaluate the impact of ILSUs, with a view to providing one ILSU in every closed prison.
Action 18.2: The IPS should conduct a mapping exercise of the life skills opportunities available to prisoners across the entire prison estate.
Action 18.3: The IPS should ensure that ILSUs operate as a stepping-stone towards transfer to an open prison, and not as an end destination before release.


Irish Penal Reform Trust


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