An official report has highlighted allegations of “inappropriate relationships” between some female inmates at Dóchas women’s prison and a number of male staff. The Dóchas Visiting Committee report for 2017, just published by the Department of Justice along with 11 other prison visiting committee reports for the same year, did not provide details of the allegations.
Responding, the Irish Prison Service (IPS) said it could not comment on allegations, but said all prisoners had the right to make a complaint. An IPS statement said the most serious complaints were examined by an external investigator. It said that any staff member who has breached policy or procedures would be dealt with under disciplinary processes. The visiting committee report said that some women at the Dublin jail complained of officers “showing favouritism”, resulting in a “feeling of helplessness”.
The report said: “Others have complained of aggressive language or bullying behaviour being used towards them.”
The committee said: “There can never be any justification for the uneven treatment of certain women or the use of aggressive bullying language towards them. Women in custody are entitled, without exception, to be treated with dignity and respect. Allegations have come to our attention of inappropriate relationships between some women and a small number of male staff.”
In November 2017, the IPS launched an investigation into suspicions that ‘Scissor Sister’ murderer Charlotte Mulhall was involved in an inappropriate relationship with a male staff member. The visiting committee said there was a heavy onus on management and prison officers to ensure the treatment of the women was “fair, humane, professional, safe, and appropriate”.
“If it is found that the behaviour of any prison officer, male or female, towards these women does not measure up to the highest professional standards demanded, there is a clear duty on management, the Prison Service, or other appropriate agency to take the necessary action. If the appropriate action is not taken or is inadequate, something is radically wrong.”
It said that with more serious complaints, “especially where allegations of a serious nature are made against prison officers or where inappropriate conduct has been alleged”, that investigations should be conducted by external investigators.
Responding, the IPS said it cannot comment on allegations: “However, all prisoners have the right to make a complaint at any time and all complaints are treated with the utmost seriousness. The most serious of complaints (category A) are assigned to external investigators including allegations of assault or use of excessive force against a prisoner, ill treatment, racial abuse, discrimination, intimidation, threats or any other conduct against a prisoner or nature and gravity likely to bring discredit on the IPS. The visiting committee also said prison numbers in Dóchas were well into the 130s in 2017, despite having a capacity of only 105.
“This is unacceptable overcrowding and a very serious strain on resources,” the report stated. It added: “Management have tried to alleviate the worst consequences of this problem. It remains unresolved and leads to disruption, behavioural problems and serious discontent.”