Cork Prison officers criticised over cell checks

Officers at Cork Prison have been criticised over their failure to regularly inspect an inmate who was found hanging in his cell within hours of arriving in the jail.

A report by the prisons watchdog found the deceased prisoner had gone unchecked for a period in excess of 90 minutes; prison regulations stipulate that he should have been checked every 15 minutes.

The deputy Inspector of Prisons, Helen Casey, has called on the Irish Prison Service to ensure that its standard operating procedures, which require regular checks of prisoners on special observation status, are known to all staff and are implemented at all times.

Ms Casey said appropriate disciplinary investigations should also be carried out whenever procedures are breached, with those who fail to carry out their duties being held to account.

She said: “Supervision by line managers is a vital part of implementing policy.

“The Irish Prison Service should review the level and quality of training to satisfy itself that it is sufficient to equip supervisory grades with the necessary skills to carry out their function.”

The unidentified prisoner was a 45-year-old married father of two who was remanded in custody to Cork Prison on January 29 this year. He was due to appear in court again two days later.

The deceased was committed to the prison at 2.54pm and placed in a single cell at 3.35pm. He was found unresponsive with a ligature around his neck and lying on the floor at 7pm on the same day.

Efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at 7.57pm.

The report says records showed his cell was checked on five occasions between 3.45pm and 7.02pm.

“If the terms of the standard operating procedures were complied with, 14 checks should have been conducted,” it states.

The report says the man had been placed on the special observation list in Cork Prison, as is standard with all new prisoners. It required him to be checked every 15 minutes.

Medical notes by a nurse on his committal noted the prisoner, who had “very poor English”, had been assaulted two days earlier and taken to hospital by gardaí. He was subsequently transferred to the prison on foot of a warrant.

Prison staff noted that he had visible injuries to his face and head.

Evidence from CCTV footage showed the prisoner had not been checked between 5pm and 6.32pm on the day he died.

The report said the cause of the man’s death was a matter for a coroner at an inquest.

It was revealed earlier this year that staff at Cork Prison were disciplined after it was discovered that they filed “misleading and inaccurate” records about the care provided to a vulnerable prisoner on the night he died.

CCTV footage viewed by Ms Casey disproved records claiming the prison officers had checked on a 52-year-old prisoner every 15 minutes on January 2, 2017.

The deputy Inspector of Prisons found six intervals wherein the prisoner, who had suffered psychotic episodes, had been left unattended for periods in excess of 15 minutes, including two periods where he had gone unchecked for more than 90 minutes.

Although the Irish Prison Service confirmed it had carried out a disciplinary investigation, it refused to comment on its outcome and what sanctions, if any, had been applied to staff.

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