The Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald T.D, today published the Inspector of Prisons Omnibus Report of investigations into the deaths of prisoners during the period 1st January, 2012 to 11th June, 2014.
The Office of the Inspector of Prisons is a statutory independent office established under the Prisons Act, 2007. The Inspector's key role is to carry out regular inspections of prisons and to submit an Annual Report to the Minister. The Inspector may also investigate any matter arising out of the management or operation of a prison and submit a report on any such investigation. To date, 24 death in custody reports have been published following a decision in April 2012 by the previous Minister.
Minister Fitzgerald welcomed the publication of the Report and said, "I would first like to take this opportunity to offer to the families concerned my sincere condolences on their tragic loss. I have read the Report with great interest and would like to thank the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly for his work in this regard. The death of any person in State custody must be thoroughly examined and I expect that the Irish Prison Service and indeed all the statutory agencies involved, will work hard to address the findings and recommendations in the Inspector’s reports.”
The Minister went on to say that “The Inspector’s investigations and reports are part of a three pronged process – the other aspects being the investigations by An Garda Síochána and the investigations and Inquests conducted by the Coroners. I am satisfied that this process ensures that Ireland is in compliance with its national and international obligations and meets the strict criteria laid down by the European Court of Human Rights when interpreting the procedural requirements of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
The Report published today outlines the reasons for independent investigation of deaths of prisoners and details the process involved in the investigation of deaths in custody or on temporary release of prisoners.
While the Inspector’s main adverse findings in his reports are highlighted, he also points out that many positive findings have been made. The Inspector calls for management of all prisons to study carefully all reports and pay particular attention to his findings and recommendations as they have general application across the prison system.
Minister Fitzgerald went on to say that “I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that the recommendations contained in the Inspector’s reports are being acted upon and all necessary steps taken to ensure any deficiencies identified by the Inspector are addressed. I have received a report on the plans by the Irish Prison Service to implement the relevant recommendations. A further report on some of the issues is due in December, 2014.
The Inspector highlighted deficiencies regarding management checks to ensure compliance with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). The Irish Prison Service has assured me that Governors and prison management are fully aware of the necessity to ensure that the appropriate checks are carried out. As a result, there is a raised level of awareness amongst all staff of the need to have Standard Operating Procedures complied with and all related checks verified. The Director General of the Irish Prison Service has also raised the matter at monthly management meetings in order to ensure that such practices are applicable across the entire prison estate and to emphasise the need for accountability.
It is clear that lessons need to be learnt, and these lessons must be applied across the whole prison system.”
The Inspector recommends that appropriate risk assessments be undertaken for prisoners to be released on temporary release. Addressing the matter, the Minister said that “The Irish Prison Service is working towards the implementation of its recently finalised ‘Prisoner Release Policy’ which will require an assessment of the prisoner’s post-release accommodation needs etc, prior to release on temporary release. It is expected that the policy will be implemented by the end of October, 2014 and an Action Plan in response to the recommendations made by the Inspector is also being implemented.”
In a number of his investigations the Inspector found operational statements of prison officers to be minimal in content, misleading and in certain cases inaccurate In response, the Irish Prison Service has taken steps to address this issue. This includes instructions to all management to comply fully with Standard Operating Procedures. The Irish Prison Service College is also arranging for a ‘Report Writing’ refresher course to be available to Training Liaison Officers. In addition, all Chief Officers have completed an ‘Effective Investigation ‘course and are aware of what is required in the submission of operational statements.
Minister Fitzgerald went on to say "I agree with the Inspector’s comments that prisons are not the only agency responsible for the wellbeing of a prisoner released on temporary release and that other statutory and non statutory agencies must also play their part. All have a role to play and must work together in ensuring every possible step is taken to prevent where possible the tragic loss of life in any of our institutions. “
Minister Fitzgerald concluded “Finally, I note the Inspector’s intention to produce detailed data for all deaths occurring since 1st January 2012. I welcome this initiative and look forward to considering the findings of this research in due course.”
The Report is available on the Department’s website – http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PB14000235
12 September, 2014