Minister of State Naughton publishes the Office of the Inspector of Prisons Annual Report 2020
11 June 2021
The Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Hildegarde Naughton TD, has today published the Office of the Inspector of Prisons Annual Report for 2020. This is the 10th Annual Report of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons.
The report provides an overview of key developments and general statistics on the Inspectorate’s work. Overall, it is noted that throughout 2020 the Inspector continued prison oversight activities despite the significant challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Remarking on the essential work of the Inspector, which continued during a difficult year, the Minister said,
“In 2020, in the performance of her statutory functions, the Inspector focused on capturing and examining the impact of COVID-19 in Irish prisons.
“I am pleased to report that she was able to undertake this work by conducting short visits and by having consistent and meaningful engagement and communication within the Irish Prison Service and with the Director General.
“During that period, the Office of the Inspector of Prisons also developed an important report in collaboration with Maynooth University on the impact of cocooning on persons in custody, which was published in July 2020.
“This type of oversight is vitally important to the dignity of care and rehabilitation of prisoners, and to the human rights led approach to the management of our prison system. I very much welcome the continued hard work and dedication of her entire team.”
The Annual report notes the many positives that have resulted from the response of the Irish Prison Service to the pandemic, from the reduction of the prison population to the roll out of multiple communication methods. The Inspector hopes that the excellent initiatives and work undertaken by the Prison Service will be retained going forward.
However, it is also the Inspectorate’s view that some of the measures introduced had a disproportionate impact on prisoners resulting from their lack of or limited human contact during the year and with out of cell time either being curtailed or ceased.
The Inspector of Prisons has a statutory role in relation to the general oversight of the Irish Prison Service Prisoner Complaints System. While it is not a function of the Inspector to investigate or adjudicate on a complaint from an individual prisoner, she may examine the circumstances relating to a prisoner complaint where necessary for performing her functions. This Report from the Inspector is critical of the current Prisoner Complaints System within the IPS. Work is continuing to complete the necessary actions to introduce the new Complaints System which was delayed, in part, due to the impact of the pandemic.
The IPS, the Department of Justice and the Office of the Parliamentary Council are working closely together to finalise the Statutory Instrument which will give legal effect to the new Prisoner Complaints System.
Commenting on this element of the report, the Minister recognised that there was further work to do,
“The Inspector has voiced her concerns in regards to the delay in reforming the prisoner complaints system. I too am eager to see this system reformed and, while I would note that work is progressing on a number of fronts, I also acknowledge that it has been subject to a number of delays.
“It is important that we get this new system right and I hope that progress can be made in order to move forward on this matter as soon as possible.”
A copy of the report is available on the Department of Justice website here: Office of the Inspector of Prisons Annual Report 2020
Note to Editors
The Inspector of Prisons was set up under section 30 of the Prisons Act 2007 (“the Act”). The Inspector of Prisons is appointed by the Minister for Justice to perform the functions conferred on her by Part 5 of the Act. Ms Patricia Gilheaney is the current Inspector, appointed on 7 May 2018 for a five year term.
The Inspector of Prisons is independent in the performance of her functions. Staff and office facilities for the Inspector are provided from within Department of Justice resources as the Office of the Inspector of Prisons.
The role of the Inspector of Prisons is as follows:
- Regular Inspection of all prisons in Ireland;
- carry out any investigation requested by the Minister for Justice into any matter arising out of the management or operation of a prison [in addition to special investigations, in 2012 the Minister gave a standing direction to the Inspector to investigate all deaths in prison custody, which has been a significant recurring body of work];
- to receive and reply to letters from prisoners in accordance with Rule 44 of the Prison Rules 2007-2020;
- oversight of the Irish Prison Service prisoner complaints system and carrying out of the functions assigned pursuant to Prison Rule 57B of the Prison Rules 2007-2020;
It is not a function of the Inspector to investigate or adjudicate on a complaint from an individual prisoner, but she may examine the circumstances relating to a prisoner complaint where necessary for performing her functions.