Three quarters of those released from prison in 2018 not working three years later, CSO shows

Researchers found that by 2021 former probationers in employment earned a weekly average of €509

Sixty per cent of people given probation orders in 2018 and three quarters of those released from prison that year were not working three years later, new figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show.

Those who did obtain employment earned around 80 per cent of the average among the wider population of employees but women fared significantly worse. On average, those women given probation orders in 2018 were earning €343 a week in 2021, roughly two thirds of the equivalent figure for men in the same position.

The figures show that levels of employment among the 4,999 probationers and 3,419 former prisoners involved were impacted more severely by Covid when compared to the wider population but grew by 14 per cent and 19 per cent respectively over the longer four year period covered, 2019 to 2023, very much in line with the comparable figure for all employees.

By 2021, the researchers found, that those former probationers in employment earned a weekly average of €509 while for former prisoners the figure was €516. The average among the total population of employees was €620 in 2021 according to the report.


Although a wider range of jobs were taken up, the two groups disproportionately went to work in the construction, administrative support and retail sectors.

Saoirse Brady, Executive Director Irish Penal Reform Trust said the research was important and the figures welcome for the insight they provided into the lives of those who have been on probation or spent time in prison.

“The focus on employment is welcome but it is striking that only one in four people who had served time in prison are actually linked with employment, with the majority reliant on a social welfare payment,” she said.

“While the data does not provide the reasons why this might be, we know that having to disclose a prior conviction when job-seeking impacts on employment prospects. However, there are opportunities to address this in law with the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 which has received cross-party support and would take a more proportionate response to disclosing old criminal records.

“This is one very practical step that we believe could remove barriers for people with experience of the criminal justice system and help more people get back into meaningful employment.”

She said the fact that 40 per cent of probationers were in work three years later compared to roughly a quarter (26 per cent) of former prisoners suggested there could be a tangible benefit to society, and the offenders, of dealing with criminal offences without the use of the prison system.

Previous evidence, she said, pointed to the fact that “people who serve their sentence in the community are much less likely to reoffend as they maintain family and community links that can sustain employment.

“The IPRT believes that this new data strengthens the argument to increase community-based sanctions as not only are community sanctions much cheaper to administer than imprisonment but now we have more Irish-based and up-to-date evidence that former probationers are also more likely to be paying back into the Exchequer through employment.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times