Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the measures taken following the Inspector of Prisons report in April 2016 and the recommendations of same; the actions still outstanding; when all recommendations will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15838/17]
87. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality when the Office of the Ombudsman will be given the jurisdiction to examine complaints within the Prison Service; the progress in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15848/17]
Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I propose to take Questions Nos. 77 and 87 together.
The report of the then Inspector of Prisons, the late Judge Michael Reilly, on the prisoner complaints system entitled “Review, Evaluation and Analysis of the Operation of the present Irish Prison Service Complaints Procedure” was published on 8 June, 2016 and is available on my Department's website - www.justice.ie.
His report identified a number of concerns in the implementation of the current complaints procedure. Arising from this I met with the late Inspector of Prisons to discuss his findings and recommendations. At that meeting I emphasised that the rights of all prisoners, including vulnerable prisoners, have to be promoted and an effective complaints system is just one aspect of achieving this goal. The Inspector made it clear to me that he considered the Irish Prison Service has to retain a central role in the complaints process but with independent oversight and that he was satisfied that a fair and effective complaints procedure could be achieved with the implementation of his recommendations. I also had a separate meeting with the Director General of the Irish Prison Service to see what action needed to be taken following on from the report.
One of the key recommendations in the Inspector's report is that prisoners’ complaints should be subject to review by the Ombudsman, who would also be able to deal with complaints directly in the case of undue delay. I accepted this recommendation and officials from the Irish Prison Service and from my own Department are in advanced discussions with the Ombudsman's office with the aim of establishing an effective complaints system for prisoners. When this is in place, the Irish Prison Service will be in a position to implement the revised procedures. To effect these changes, some amendment to secondary legislation may be required as well as development of the IT infrastructure. It is not envisaged that primary legislation will be required.
I should mention that I also accepted further recommendations made in the Inspector's report which will be reflected in the revised procedures currently under consideration. These include resolving minor complaints at the lowest level; allowing prisoners to make complaints to relevant professional bodies; prisoners being entitled to an explanation for decisions made affecting them; frivolous and vexatious complaints being addressed; and the application of fair procedures. Similarly the recommendations on adequate training, adhering to protocols and statutory obligations, holding staff to account, not hindering the complaints procedure and having an effective communication system are accepted.