‘Inappropriate relationships’ between staff and prisoners

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.”

  • Mountjoy
  • In its 2017 report, the committee said “pervasive” substance abuse was having a “traumatic” impact on inmates and staff. Between 23% and 30% of inmates were on restricted regime (on protection) and locked up for 19-23 hours, raising concerns for their mental health. The committee said there was an urgent need to review staffing.
  • Limerick
  • The committee said the number of inmates “consistently exceeded” capacity. The report said they were “extremely concerned” about the availability of drugs in the prison.
  • Cloverhill
  • The committee said gang culture continued to be a “serious problem”. It said that drugs coming over the wall was a “huge cause of concern for all” and called for “urgent intervention”. Some 334 of the 390 inmates were in cells where they had to use the toilet in front of others.
  • Wheatfield
  • The committee said drugs were an ongoing concern. It said vulnerable inmates and visitors can be threatened into bringing in drugs and that the visiting area appeared to be the “weakest link” as it was often busy and understaffed.
  • Cork
  • The committee said organised crime was “more prevalent” which made rehabilitation more difficult. It commended the prison’s “comprehensive and integrated approach” to the release of inmates.
  • Midlands
  • The committee said some 46% (389) of the population of the prison were convicted of sex offences, but the capacity of the Building Better Lives programme, aimed at sexual offenders, was 35 prisoners per year.

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