Watchdog says Prison Service failing to implement its recommendations following prisoner deaths

Watchdog says Prison Service failing to implement its recommendations following prisoner deaths

The Inspector of Prisons said it is repeating recommendations on the deaths of vulnerable inmates “over and over again”, but that prison authorities do not appear to be taking steps to prevent such fatalities recurring.

In a hard-hitting attack, the new inspector said the failure of the Irish Prison Service (IPS) to enforce recommendations in successive death in custody reports meant they were not “receiving sufficient attention”.

Inspector Patricia Gilheaney said there should be “zero tolerance” of cases where there is a failure to carry out the required observations of vulnerable inmates and that “appropriate disciplinary action” should be taken.

Responding, the IPS said the director general Caron McCaffrey was concerned at the points raised, and that an action plan was in place to “resolve all” of the inspector’s recommendations.

Ms Gilheaney made her comments in a foreword to an inspection report conducted by acting inspector Helen Casey.

Ms Casey, a principal officer in the watchdog, examined the case of the death of a 31-year-old inmate in Limerick Prison (identified only as Prisoner G) after he was found with a ligature around his neck in his cell on May 6, 2017.

Key points in Ms Casey’s report reveal:

  • It was Prisoner G’s first time in jail, and he had only been in custody for nine days;
  • He was on remand in custody waiting to face charges at the time of his death;
  • Prisoner G was on special observation — meaning checks by staff every 15 minutes;
  • An examination of CCTV by a chief officer in the prison, on behalf of the inspector, found that five prison officers checked on the inmate, but that the time variation between checks varied from 28 minutes to 2.54 hours;
  • He should have been checked 39 times, but the Chief Officer found only nine checks were conducted;
  • While the chief officer had initially saved the CCTV footage and supplied a written report to the inspector, the footage could not be located by IT staff at IPS headquarters, HQ and it may have been “accidentally deleted”.

The inspector’s report said: “There was no explanation provided by the five officers as to why the cell checks were not every 15 minutes.” The report said the prison governor stated that staff were unable to conduct 15-minute checks due to other operational demands on the night, including an incident for over two hours.

Ms Gilheaney said that “over the past six years” the office had identified a failure to adhere to special observations, including in the case of Prisoner G.

“It is clear the controls in place were inadequate,” she said.

“It is noted that similar recommendations have been made in death in custody reports over and over again and therefore it leads me to conclude that they have not been receiving sufficient attention.”

She said the failure to record and/or retain CCTV footage should be considered “a very serious matter”.

She said it was of “serious concern” that the “opportunity to prevent recurrence of similar deaths does not appear to be sufficiently addressed”.

The IPS said the inspector had raised “a number of points which are of concern” to the director general, who had “put in place an action plan to resolve all of the recommendations”.

It said the measures would “ensure compliance” with the 15-minute requirement and guidelines on disciplinary sanctions would be published internally “in the coming days”.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust said the failure of the IPS to secure evidence was of “particularly grave concern”.

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