Defects inherent in the old Cork Prison building in terms of housing vulnerable and suicidal prisoners have been rectified at the new multi-million euro facility, Cork Coroners’ Court heard yesterday.
Former prison governor Jim Collins, said the new purpose-built prison eliminates the defects of the old system. There is a separate area for prisoners who have mental health issues and are vulnerable or suicidal.
CCTV is also in place in all walkways and TVs do not project from the wall but are instead flush with it. This lessens the risk of the TVs being used for self-harm.
Mr Collins said the prison authorities always have to be mindful of being humane in terms of housing vulnerable prisoners: “If you are trying to make a cell or room totally restrictive it would be inhumane.”
Mr Collins’ comments came at the third day of the hearing of the inquest into Roy O’Driscoll’s death.
Mr O’Driscoll, aged 25, of Summerhill in Mallow, Co Cork, was found dead at Cork Prison on May 10, 2013. He was serving a seven-year sentence for assault and had been transferred from Portlaoise Prison just days before he took his own life.
Mr Collins said he was shocked to learn at an earlier hearing that Mr O’Driscoll had not been in a safety observation cell at Portlaoise Prison given that staff deemed him high risk.
Mr Collins said he informed Mr O’Driscoll’s relatives of his death over the phone, as he was worried they would hear via the media.
“You must appreciate news filters around fairly quickly,” he said. “I couldn’t get an answer from Roy’s father. I got his brother [on the phone] and told him. If I was not to do that he would have gotten it via newspapers or TV and that is not fair on the family.”
Prison officer Pat Desmond said Mr O’Driscoll’s partner, Jenna Lane, had expressed concern for his welfare two days before his death. Mr Desmond spoke to Roy and informed him of his loved one’s worries about his wellbeing.
Prison officer Noel O’Connor said he assumed that as Mr O’Driscoll was in the D unit that he was “fragile in some way”. He said the prisoner was monitored every 15 minutes and that he was “highly vulnerable”.
The case was adjourned until later this month to facilitate the hearing of evidence of a paramedic who assisted at the prison on the day of Mr O’Driscoll’s death.
An earlier inquest sitting heard that Mr O’Driscoll got an anonymous note in the days before his death urging him to kill himself. This followed on from an altercation with a fellow inmate on April 29 on the C Block landing of Portlaoise Prison.
Mr O’Driscoll attended a disciplinary hearing with the governor and a nursing officer where he admitted he started the fight. Nurse officer Karl Shelley told the inquest that Roy requested a transfer to Cork Prison where he was moved a short time after.
Mr Shelley said Mr O’Driscoll had a history of depression. By mid-April 2013 he was struggling to cope mentally. He was assessed by Central Mental Hospital staff. Mr Shelley told Cork City Coroner Myra Cullinane that by April 30 there was a heightened risk of suicide. On May 1, Mr O’Driscoll was transferred to Cork Prison.
Mr Shelley said he was not aware that the inmate was being transferred to Cork. However, his health care documents were in the system and would have been available to staff at Cork Prison. He conceded certain entries in the notes did not convey that Mr O’Driscoll was at risk of suicide.
Majorie Farrelly, barrister, representing the family, said it would have been better if Mr O’Driscoll’s mental health issues had been conveyed orally to staff.
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