113. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when she will introduce a fully independent prisoner complaints mechanism; the barriers to introducing such a mechanism; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8862/16]


Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The current prisoner complaints system was introduced in the Irish Prison Service in November 2012 based on a model recommended by the Inspector of Prisons who has independent oversight of the process. It was introduced in acknowledgment that prisoners must have access to a credible and robust system that deals with genuine complaints in an open, transparent, and independent way.
The system is categorised depending on the nature of the complaint. Category A complaints concern the most serious level of complaint (assault, serious intimidation by staff etc.). Category B complaints include allegations of discrimination, verbal abuse by officers and inappropriate searches. Category C complaints are essentially service complaints where a prisoner is unhappy with the level of service in a particular prison. Category D complaints are those alleging misconduct or mistreatment by professionals providing services to prisoners such as doctors, dentists etc.
To support and give effect to these new complaint procedures the then Minister announced amendments to the Prison Rules in January 2013. In the main, the amendments provide that prisoner complaints under Category A will be examined by investigators from outside the Prison Service to ensure an effective and impartial investigation. The complainant is to be kept informed and the reports by outside investigators are automatically submitted to the Governor in question, the Director General and the Inspector of Prisons. The Inspector has had oversight of the process from the very beginning which was also strengthened by extra resources assigned to his office.
A panel of 22 Independent Investigators was established following a selection and interview process.
It should be noted that, in addition to the complaints system described above, a prisoner may make a complaint about treatment in custody through a number of other channels, including the Prison Visiting Committee and the Inspector of Prisons.
Finally, the Inspector of Prisons, who is independent of Government, has carried out a review of the prisoner complaints procedure currently in operation in the Irish Prison Service and has made a number of recommendations, including one relating to a possible role for an Ombudsman. My officials and I are currently examining those recommendations. Question No. 114 answered with Question No. 112.