Officer raises concern over jail deaths

A prison officer who made explosive claims about covert surveillance in the country’s jails has also raised concerns about how deaths in prisons are dealt with.

In a sworn affidavit sent to the justice minister, the whistleblower said protocols or procedures for the preservation of scenes where deaths occurred were not followed.

He said he was aware of incidents where:

  • The cell was not preserved;
  • The body of a deceased prisoner was moved;
  • A cellmate of the deceased prisoner was simply moved to another cell.

He also raised concerns about protocols for dealing with the clothes and other belongings of deceased prisoners.

The prison officer has stated in a sworn affidavit that he met with the late Judge Michael Reilly on a number of occasions to discuss his concerns. 

Some of these meetings took place in his private home.

Notes from these meetings, he said, would be retained in the records of the Inspector of Prisons office.

Judge Reilly, who died in November 2016, had served as Inspector of Prisons from 2008 until his death. 

He had, in various reports, expressed concerns about how deaths in custody were handled.

Following allegations about tracking devices being places on prison officers’ cars highlighted in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, the Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, has asked the Inspector of Prisons, Patricia Gilheaney, to conduct a preliminary investigation.

Mr Flanagan said: “It must be stressed that these are allegations, and we must in the first instance determine if they are factual.

“This preliminary investigation will put us in a better position to consider whether further steps need to be taken, such as a more formal inquiry, as has been called for”.

However, the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) criticised his response and questioned the decision to refer the investigation to the Inspector of Prisons, stating the allegations should be investigated by the gardaí.

The POA said it was concerned about any practice that could impact on the safety and security of its members.

“We are asking for a response [from the minister] as a matter of urgency, as we would be deeply concerned about any practice that could impact on the safety and security of our members,” said the POA in a statement.

A similar security matter did emerge in the past regarding the installation of covert CCTV equipment in a Dublin prison, after which we were given assurances by the director general of the Irish Prison Service that there would be no repeat of the practice.

 

"A complaint was made to the Data Protection Commissioner at that time and this led to the assurance we were given from the director general.”

The Penal Reform Trust said the serious allegations raised “huge concerns” given the potential for rights violations.

“We welcome the minister’s announcement that the Inspector of Prisons, Patricia Gilheaney will carry out a preliminary investigation to establish whether there is a need for a formal inquiry,” said the trust.

“However, it is essential that the office receives additional resources to ensure that it can conduct this preliminary investigation without negatively impacting on its important day-to-day work in protecting against potential human rights abuses in prison.”

Inspector of Prisons, Patricia Gilheaney

In his affidavit, the whistleblower said as a result of his concerns about prison deaths he undertook a course in DNA and the preservation of crime scene at the garda training college, but found his enthusiasm to professionalise the response to deaths in custody was not shared by management.

Last August, the Irish Examiner reported that an analysis of Inspector of Prisons reports found that two thirds of investigations into the deaths of prisoners since 2012 highlighted concerns about “misleading” or inaccurate record keeping by prison staff.

Among the criticisms Judge Reilly made about deaths in custody was the failure of procedure to take proper statements. 

In a 2014 report, he noted that “in a number of my investigations I have found such statements to be minimal in content, misleading and in certain cases inaccurate.”


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