Dozens of Irish prisoners held in solitary confinement

Of 51 inmates in solitary last January, nine had spent more than a year in isolation

More than 50 inmates in the Irish prison system were being held in solitary confinement for 22 hours a day earlier this year, with nine spending more than a year in isolation.

The figures obtained by Belfast-based news and analysis website The Detail using freedom of information legislation reflect a sample day – January 1st, 2016. Prison reform campaigners say it is the first time such information has been made public.

The figures for the Republic show that on January 1st 51 inmates in Irish Prison Service jails were being held in their cells for at least 22 hours a day, with half of them held there for more than 100 days, and at least nine prisoners spending more than a year in such conditions.

Half of those held in 22- or 23-hour lock-up on this day were inmates in Mountjoy Prison in north Dublin. The remaining prisons where inmates were held in these conditions included Cloverhill, Wheatfield, Cork or Limerick prisons.


Prisoners can be held in 22- or 23-hour lock-up for a number of reasons, including at their own request, or for their own protection.

Recent analysis by The Detail of procedures in Northern Ireland showed prisoners in the high-security Maghaberry Prison in Co Antrim were held in solitary confinement for months and years. In one case an inmate was held for five years.

‘Restricted regime’

The Irish Prison Service refers to 22- or 23-hour lock-up as a “restricted regime”, but the

United Nations

considers solitary confinement as the physical isolation of individuals who are in their cells for more than 22 hours a day.

The majority of prisoners held in solitary confinement on January 1st were sent there under prison rule 63. The service said this rule was designed to protect vulnerable prisoners and can be used at a prisoner’s own request or when the governor considers it necessary for the inmate to be kept separate from other prisoners who are reasonably likely to cause significant harm to them. In all, 36 of the 51 inmates on 22- or 23-hour lock-up on January 1st were there under rule 63 and only one of those was there at the governor’s direction.

Rule 62 is used when the prison governor decides a prisoner is having a “negative effect on the general population”. A total of 11 prisoners were on 22- or 23-hour lock-up under this rule on January 1st.

In July 2013 the director general of the service established a group to look at measures to reduce the number of prisoners held on restricted regimes, with a view to ensuring that all receive, as a minimum standard, out-of-cell time of three hours a day, to engage in exercise or activity.

Monthly figures from the Irish Prison Service show a decrease of 211 prisoners on 22- or 23-hour lock-up in July 2013 to 74 prisoners in July 2016.

The authorities declined a request for figures stretching across five years, as had been provided in Northern Ireland, but instead provided the data for a single day which gave a snapshot. The service said this information was not held on a central database and therefore to collate it would require manual trawls through files, which would take what it considered to be “an inordinate length of time”.

Lack of clarity

Director of the

Irish Penal Reform Trust

Fíona Ní Chinnéide said: “For years, there has been a lack of clarity around the lengths of time that individual prisoners are being held on 22- or 23-hour lock-up. Finally we have the information, but the figures give cause for serious concern.”

She said the trust would be publishing research next year on solutions towards ending the use of solitary confinement in Ireland.

“Balancing prisoner safety with humane prison regimes is a difficult challenge for all prison systems – but locking up individuals for long periods of time cannot be the answer. We believe the practice can and should be abolished in Irish prisons,” Ms Ní Chinnéide said.