The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr Alan Shatter T.D. today announced that new robust procedures would be introduced to investigate complaints by prisoners. The Minister was not satisfied that the existing complaints procedure was effective. Prisoners are in a particularly vulnerable position and they must have access to a credible complaints system that deals with genuine complaints in an open, transparent and independent way. He had asked the Inspector of Prisons to advise on a suitable model and the Inspector has submitted a detailed report on the matter which was published today.
The Minister welcomes that report and endorses the general principles set out by the Inspector. Minister Shatter said, "It is my intention that a comprehensive complaints system based on the model proposed by the Inspector be introduced but it would be unrealistic to expect immediate implementation for every complaint in all prisons.
The first priority will be to address those category of complaints which have given rise to most concern. These are what the Inspector refers to as category "A" complaints alleging serious ill treatment, use of excessive force, racial discrimination, intimidation or threats. Amendments to the Prison Rules will be introduced as soon as possible to provide that such complaints will be examined by investigators from outside the Prison Service to ensure an effective and impartial investigation. The complainant will be kept informed and their reports will be automatically submitted to the Governor in question, the Director General and the Inspector of Prisons. The Inspector of Prisons will have oversight of the process from the very beginning. Some amendments to section 31 of the Prisons Act 2007 are required to facilitate a formal role in the appeals process for the Inspector of Prisons and to enhance his investigatory powers in dealing with non prison personnel and obtaining access to medical records".
In the interim, draft Prison Rules have been drawn up and are being forwarded to the Office of the Attorney General for their advices. The Prison Rules will allow partial implementation and will represent a major step forward but only represent an interim solution while waiting for primary legislation to be enacted.
Minister Shatter continued "The other categories of complaints are of importance to the day to day living conditions of individual prisoners. The proposals envisage a major cultural change in the way complaints are addressed and recorded within the prison system affecting several thousand individuals. I have directed that Michael Donnellan, Director General of the Irish Prison Service draw up an implementation plan by next spring with a view to having the new complaints procedure for every category of complaint up and running in all prison within the 3 year time frame of the Irish Prison Service's Strategic Plan."
The Minister is conscious that the new complaints will have resource implications for both the Irish Prison Service and the Inspector of Prisons. The Minister will provide additional resources to the Inspector to ensure the integrity of the new complaints procedure and allow proper oversight. As a first step, arrangements are being in put place to allow the Inspector to draw on a panel of investigators to assist him. He is committed to ensuring that the Inspector will have the resources he needs to oversee implement the new complaints system.
The Report is available on the Department of Justice and Equality website: www.justice.ie
8 August 2012