The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr. Alan Shatter TD, today (22 January, 2013) announced amendments to the Prison Rules to support and give effect to robust new procedures for the investigation of prisoner complaints.
The Minister said "I had announced on 8 August, 2012 that new robust procedures would be introduced to investigate complaints by prisoners. As I said then, I was not satisfied that the existing complaints procedures were 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. The amendments to the Prison Rules which came into operation on 14 January, 2013 is a major step forward".
The Minister had asked the Inspector of Prisons to advise on a suitable prisoner complaints model and the Inspector submitted a detailed report on the matter which was published last August. While the intention is to put in place a comprehensive complaints system, this will take time and the first priority is to address those category of complaints which have given rise to most concern. These are what the Inspector referred to as category "A" complaints alleging serious ill treatment, use of excessive force, racial discrimination, intimidation or threats.
The Director General of the Irish Prison Service had been instructed to introduce procedures for dealing with the most serious of complaints as an immediate priority. The Prison Service recruited a panel of 22 external investigators and the new procedures went live on 1 November, 2012.
In the main, the amendments to the Prison Rules provide that prisoner 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.
Minister Shatter said "I am giving consideration to some amendments to section 31 of the Prisons Act 2007 to facilitate a more 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. The changes to the Prison Rules nevertheless represent a major step forward".
Minister Shatter added "I am confident these amendments will make a difference and reflect my commitment as Minister to having a credible and comprehensive prisoner complaints system in place. The position will continue to be kept under review in light of experience in implementing the new procedures and further changes will be made in due course if necessary".
The Minister also published the Annual Report for 2011 of the St Patrick's Institution Visiting Committee.
The Committee has reported on a number of issues during the year including conditions generally, accommodation and maintenance, staffing, education, workshops, prisoners on protection, the use of special cells, and developments generally within the Institution. The Committee met monthly in St Patrick’s while individual members made 21 random and unannounced visits during the year. They met with inmates during those visits and discussed any concerns raised with prison management at their monthly meetings.
Speaking on the publication of the Report, Minister Shatter said that "The report must be read alongside the recently published Report from the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, on St Patrick’s Institution which raised serious and major concerns in relation to the Institution. I also published the Irish Prison Service's Action Plan for implementing the Inspector's recommendations. In light of the Inspector’s report, I asked if the Committee would consider the issues raised and whether they would wish to comment on its contents".
The Committee has welcomed the Inspector’s Report, and the Action Plan put in place by the Irish Prison Service which they will support. Their main focus is on ensuring the welfare, education and rehabilitation of inmates. As set out in the Inspector’s report, the chairman of the Committee had met with the Inspector and raised a number of issues with him. Their views were endorsed by the Inspector who also commented that they appeared to be carrying out their mandate in accordance with the relevant legislation. For their part, the Committee recognise the concerns raised in the Inspector’s report and strongly recommend that adequate resources and training be made available to support St Patrick’s and the Irish Prison Service in implementing the recommendations in the strategy drawn up to address the issues raised by the Inspector.
The Minister said "I already said when publishing the Inspector’s Report on 16 October, 2012 that the culture in St Patrick’s must change. The full support of everyone involved including the Visiting Committee is required to meet that challenge and everything possible must be done to address the issues within the timeframes set by the Inspector if not before then. An Action Plan is now in place implementing all of the Inspector's recommendations and I am pleased to say that over 80% of the recommendations have been implemented to date".
The Minister added "The Government is committed to ending the practice of sending children to St. Patrick's Institution. The practice of sending 16 year old boys to St Patrick’s ceased on 1st May, 2012. The detention of children in St. Patrick’s Institution will end with the provision of more appropriate accommodation and regimes in the new detention facility at Oberstown by mid-2014. To that end, the Government allocated €20.4 million in capital funding for 2013 to the Department of Children & Youth Affairs to enable this project to proceed".
"In the interim the Irish Prison Service is devising a specific strategy for the management of young offenders. Central to this strategy is enhanced cooperation with the Irish Youth Justice Service including the placement of a number of care staff from the children detention schools to work alongside prison staff in St Patrick's. It is intended that this will take place in the coming weeks. In addition, the feasibility of accommodating some categories of the 17 year old age group in the child detention schools before mid-2014 is being actively examined".
The Prison Rules (Amendment) 2013 (S.I. No. 11 of 2013), and the St Patrick’s Institution Visiting Committee report are available on the Department’s website
22 January, 2013.