While many taxpayers may have been unaware they were stumping up €3.7m a year in allowances to prisoners, those tasked with managing the system have decided to tighten the purse-strings.
Up until now every prisoner was given €2.35 a day regardless of their behaviour or involvement in rehabilitation programmes.
The money is handed out to allow inmates buy cigarettes or other items in the prison shops.
Under the new system, announced at the annual Prison Officers’ Association (POA) conference in Galway, the Irish Prison Service (IPS) will start each prisoner on a standard rate of €1.70 a day.
Prisoners who misbehave will be penalised and moved to a basic rate of €0.95 a day.
Those who co-operate with prison officers, take part in training or education programmes and remain drug-free, will go on to an enhanced daily rate of €2.20. Those who work will also get an extra €1 a day.
The new regime is expected to save the IPS an estimated €430,000 a year, a reduction of 28%.
“People who have demonstrated that they are drug-free, participating in programmes and ticking all the boxes around rehabilitation, will be on the enhanced payment,” said IPS director general Michael Donnellan.
“We get to reward people who are doing the work. With bad behaviour you drop to the basic level. You have to be involved in training and education and be drug-free to get up to the gold standard.”
The prison boss said the allowance was very important to inmates: “For many people in prisons it is the only income they have. It would be a struggle for them to buy things like cigarettes if they were on the basic level.”
The move has been welcomed by the POA. Deputy general secretary Jim Mitchell said: “Our belief is if there is a regime there that supports and incentivises prisoners to behave better, they will.
“But there will always be 10%-20% that will not behave and if they don’t, they shouldn’t be entitled to the same benefits.”
It also emerged at the conference that wife killer Eamonn Lillis won a prize for a short story he submitted to Listowel Writers’ Week. The story was sent anonymously through the IPS education service.