On October 22nd a number of important reports were published by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons in Ireland:
- The Irish Prison Population – an examination of duties and obligations owed to prisoners
- Report of an Investigation on the use of ‘Special Cells’ in Irish Prisons
- Guidance on Best Practice relating to Prisoners’ Complaints and Prison Discipline
- Inspector of Prisons Annual Report (March 2009 – September 2010)
1. In the report on The Irish Prison Population – an examination of duties and obligations owed to prisoners the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, outlines the type of accommodation, the type and level of services and the regimes (including prisoner safety) that Ireland is obliged to provide for prisoners having regard to its international and domestic obligations and acknowledged best practice. The Inspector summarises these obligations along with relevant rules, case law and reports from regulatory authorities. This report provides commentary on each prison in the state and sets out the maximum numbers that the Inspector suggests should be accommodated in such prisons in order to be in compliance with both domestic and international obligations.
In relation to the practice of “slopping out” at Mountjoy Prison, the Inspector makes the following observations at para. 14.9 of this Report:
I witnessed the practice of ‘slopping out’ on numerous occasions. The procedure is chaotic especially when prisoners are unlocked in the morning with prisoners having to queue, where the contents of the ‘slop out’ buckets or pots can splash on the floor or on prisoners, where slop hoppers are dirty, where urine is on the floor and where faeces are evident on the slop hoppers after use. In my view this poses a health hazard. It also removes all vestiges of dignity from the prisoners and from the officers who have to oversee this procedure. In many cases the prisoners have to carry their pots or buckets without lids as in some cases none are provided. Sometimes there are not sufficient ‘slop out’ utensils in multi occupancy cells. This has meant that one prisoner may have to empty such utensils that have been used by others in addition to himself. Because of the antiquated sewage system and because prisoners frequently block the slop hoppers blockages and overflows are common in this are.
In relation to overcrowding, the Inspector strongly states at para. 14.21:
In the case of Mountjoy Prison there are no factors that could be accepted by any reasonable person for suggesting that the prison could accommodate in excess of 540 prisoners.
This statement resonates even more when one notes that on July 23rd 2010, a date of reference used throughout this Report, there were 728 men imprisoned in Mountjoy.
Many other significant observations are made in relation to each of the Irish prisons in this Report, along with recommendations for change. The Inspector intends to publish a supplement to this Report on an annual basis in order to highlight the then present state of our prisons from the point of view of the numbers accommodated and the services and regimes provided.
2. In the Report of an Investigation on the use of ‘Special Cells’ in Irish Prisons the Inspector of Prisons examines the use of two types of “special cells”: “safety observation” cells and “close supervision” cells. Safety observation cells are designed to accommodate prisoners who require frequent observation for medical reasons or because they are a danger to themselves while close supervision cells are designed to accommodate prisoners who are a danger to others in the prison or who are disruptive and, in the opinion of management, need to be separated from other prisoners in order to maintain a safe and secure custodial environment.
This Report provides an analysis of Ireland’s obligations to prisoners placed in ‘special’ cells having regard to the Constitution, the Irish Prison Rules, the Irish Prison Service Health Care Standards, the Standards for the Inspection of Prisons in Ireland, the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, the European Prison Rules and Reports of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). The Report raises concerns about the use of “Safety Observation” cells for prisoners other than those requiring supervision for medical reasons or because they pose a danger to themselves: the Inspector disapprovingly pointed to the use of such cells in certain circumstances for general accommodation or management purposes. The Report provides recommendations for the future use of “special cells” in Irish prisons.
3. The third document recently published by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons is the Guidance on Best Practice relating to Prisoners’ Complaints and Prison Discipline. Having examined the issues of prisoners’ complaints procedures and disciplining of prisoners in Irish prisons over an 18 month period the Inspector came to the conclusion that the standards attained fell short of best practice. The Guidance document examines best practice in light of domestic and international obligations, along with an examination of relevant case law of the European Court of Human Rights, reports of the CPT and various Prison Rules. The document provides guidance to the Irish Prison Service and local prison management as to what should be expected in order that procedures, both in terms of prisoner complaints and prisoner discipline, are fair and transparent and that they attract confidence from prisoners and the public alike.
In relation to the prisoner complaints procedures, the Inspector sets out a number of reasons for his finding that current procedures cannot be said to be fair or transparent:
(a) Many prisoners are disadvantaged because of literacy problems in being unable to adequately fill out prisoner complaint forms.
(b) Delegating the investigation of complaints to a Chief Officer in the prison and especially the Chief Officer in charge of officers who may be under investigation cannot be said to accord with best practice.
(c) Submitting photocopies of the prisoner’s complaint to officers should not happen.
(d) The absence of a thorough investigation and the identification of other evidence or witnesses suggest an investigation that lacks transparency.
(e) Evidence harvested for an investigation must be properly preserved if it is to be used in any subsequent proceedings. There are no protocols in place to ensure that such is the case.
(f) The present procedure whereby Governors make decisions lacks transparency.
The Inspector then provides guidance on best practice, including, amongst other things, the need to deal with all complaints expeditiously, the need to gather all relevant information in an investigation of a complaint, the need to ensure that complainant prisoners are not in ongoing contact with officers against whom they have complained during the period of investigation, and the need for prison officers to wear some form of identification when on duty so as to enable complaints to be properly directed.
In relation to prison discipline procedures, the Inspector notes a lack of consistency in disciplinary sanctions across prisons, and even within prisons. He also notes that many prisoners are unaware of how the disciplinary procedure operated. The Inspector recommends that the disciplinary procedure which applies to adult prisoners should be transparent and standardised across the entire prison system, prisoners should be made aware of the rules of the prison and of the consequences of breaking such rules, comprehensive records should be kept on disciplinary action taken and where punishment may amount to a loss of remission a prisoner should be entitled to legal representation at the initial stage, not just on appeal as is the current practice.
4. The final report recently published is the Inspector of Prisons Annual Report (March 2009 – September 2010). The delayed time-line arose due to the fact that the Inspector was compiling each of the above-outlined reports at the same time as carrying out his normal inspections. Along with providing a brief outline of each of the above-outlined reports, the Inspector’s Annual Review reflects on other notable issues within the Irish prison system such as prison education, staff training and placement, the courts video link system (currently in operation between Limerick District Court and Limerick Prison), identification of prison officers, drugs and contraband in prison, and painting and maintenance. In relation to painting and maintenance the Inspector baldly says:
This should be ongoing and not dependent on the expected arrival of the Minister, the Inspector of Prisons or any other Regulatory Authority.
The Inspector also sets out his plans for the coming months: on 31 December 2010 he intends to submit to the Minister for Justice a report on the proper procedures to be followed when a death occurs in a prison. The Inspector also intends to submit a report to the Minister before the 31 December which will be solely focused on Mountjoy Prison (a follow-up on the Report on an Inspection of Mountjoy Prison by the Inspector of Prisons from August 2009). The Inspector also plans to complete a report on the standards of medical care provided in our prisons. More generally, he will continue his prison visits, both announced and unannounced, during the day and at night, and he will compile reports on his findings.