Prison service chief Michael Donnellan has warned, all too plausibly, of the “huge pressure” generated by drugs-related gangs and the need to segregate inmates.
That, and a system dealing with far more prisoners than prisons were designed to house, generates huge stresses.
Whether that is enough to accept the Inspector of Prisons findings around the supervision of prisoners with mental health problems is at best a moot point.
That doubt is exacerbated by the fact that the inspector found a startling number of examples of where details of the supervision of prisoners, who, according to prison logs were inspected every 15 minutes were gross exaggerations.
The inspector first found incorrect record-keeping in a 2012 report on the death of a prisoner in Mountjoy.
Similar issues have arisen in reports into deaths in Cork, Limerick, Portlaoise, Cloverhill, and Wheatfield Prisons.
Incredibly, the inspector found in investigations into the deaths of prisoners that, in more than two-thirds of cases, staff records were “misleading”.
In one, a 52-year-old married father serving a six-month term went unchecked by the standard 15-minute rota six times on the night he died. One period lasted an hour and 42 minutes, even though official records claimed he was checked every 15 minutes.
That level of dishonesty is unacceptable in an arm of our justice system and it must be forcefully confronted. There must be real, possibly career-ending, consequences.