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What is the Role of the Irish Prison Service?


Origins of the Irish Prison Service

The origins of the Irish Prison Service can be traced back to the establishment of a three person Convict Prison Board in 1854. Prior to the establishment of the Convict Prisons Board, prisons in Ireland constituted county jails, debtors prisons, bridewells and convict prisons. The Convict Prison Board initially managed three prisons: Mountjoy Prison (opened in 1850), Spike Island in County Cork (1847) and Smithfield in Dublin. However, the increasing burden of maintaining these prisons, combined with powerful penal reform pressure groups, provided the impetus for change, leading the Government to establish a General Prisons Board in 1877. The General Prisons Board was created under the General Prisons (Ireland) Act 1877 and represented a desire by government to centralize the administration of prisons in Ireland. This Board assumed responsibility for 38 local county prisons, four convict prisons and 96 bridewells. In 1928, the General Prisons Board was dissolved (General Prisons Board (Transfer of Functions) Order 1928) and its functions were transferred to the Department of Justice (now the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform). At the time of the transfer of functions, the Board was responsible for the administration of eight prisons and a Borstal.

Establishment of the Irish Prison Service

In 1996, the Government approved the establishment of an independent prisons agency- the Irish Prison Service. A small expert group was appointed to work out the detailed arrangements of the proposed new prison administration. A Director General and a Prisons Board comprising 12 members was appointed in 1999. The Director General was given responsibility under the Public Service Management Act 1997 for the day to day management of the Prison Service

Structure of the Irish Prison Service

Currently, the Irish Prison Service consists of 14 prisons and places of detention, a staff of approximately 3,400 and a daily average prison population of roughly 3,100.

The Irish Prison Service Annual Report indicates that, in 2006, there were:

  • A total of 12,3171 committals to prison
  • 5,311 committals were received on remand and/or awaiting trial, 1,196 committals were received on immigration warrants and 8 committals were received for an indefinite period of detention for contempt of court.
  • 5,802 committals were received under sentence, 160 of which were initially received on remand/ awaiting trial and were subsequently recommitted under sentence.
  • Of those committed to prison under sentence, 1,452 (25%) were committed for Road Traffic Act offences, 1,089 (19%) were committed for non-payment of fines and 194 (3%) were committed as debtors.
  • The majority of committals under sentence were sentenced to short prison terms with approximately 60% receiving a sentence of 6 months or less and 79% receiving a sentence of 12 months or less.
  • There were 9,700 individuals committed to prison, the majority of whom were male (90%), aged between 21 and 40 years (68%) and of Irish nationality (70%).
  • The daily average prisoner population was 3,191.

For further information on the history and operation of the Irish Prison Service, please visit the Irish Prison Service website at and/or see this website for some statistics about the Irish prison population.

1. This figure includes committals received on remand, awaiting trial, those initially received on remand/ awaiting trial who were subsequently recommitted under sentence, committals received under sentence, on immigration warrants and those committed indefinitely for contempt of court.

(Source: The Irish Prison Service website)


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