The Inspector of Prisons has criticised the abuse of powers by prison officers, bullying among inmates, and the “grave” prevalence of drugs in jails.
The Inspector of Prisons’ Annual Report for 2013/14 also criticised the “continued accommodation of a small cohort of 17-year-old remand children in St Patrick’s [Institute for Young Offenders]” and overcrowding, particularly in the Dochas women’s prison.
Responding, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald reiterated that St Patrick’s will close this year and that inmates will be transferred to the new detention facility in Oberstown.
“One of the Government’s priorities is to remove 17-year-old offenders from the adult prison system,” she said. “Progress has been made and the detention of children in St. Patrick’s Institution will end with the provision of more appropriate accommodation and regimes in the new detention facility at Oberstown later this year.”
While the report highlights progress made regarding the prison building programme, it also contains some stinging criticisms.
In a section entitled ‘Matters of concern’, the inspector wrote: “There is a culture where a minority of officers abuse the authority vested in them to the detriment of prisoners.
This can manifest itself in many ways and is insidious. It can involve such things as bullying, intimidation, name calling, failing to act on requests, making false promises, taking actions to ensure the discomfiture of prisoners and other actions designed to denigrate the prisoners under their control.”
It also cites “bullying by prisoner on prisoner” as a “major problem”, particularly as some inmates are “much more vulnerable and open to abuse” because of factors such as age and ethnicity.
The report says some perpetrators of abuse are less likely to be the subject of a complaint due to fears over violence or are members of a gang, while complaints against staff are also freighted with fears of “possible, longer-term repercussions.”
The report also slams the “incomplete, inaccurate and at times misleading” nature of many incident reports, and references the “very serious matter” of falsified records.
The report refers to one investigation in which an officer is quoted as stating: “We are only trained on report writing in initial training and they tell you to ‘keep it short and cover your arse.’”
Irish Penal Reform Trust executive director, Deirdre Malone, said the claims were “extremely disturbing” and evidence of a “no-consequence” culture that could not be tolerated.
The Inspector of Prisons stressed that every rank needed to be accountable for their actions and responsibilities and that it is the duty of governors to ensure the management structure operates.
He added that consequences should follow in cases where regulations are not properly followed and that “the higher the rank the greater the responsibility”.
He also said: “The prevalence of drugs and other contraband is a matter of grave concern” and “I find it disappointing that, where I have identified deficiencies in one prison, I find the same deficiencies at a later stage in other prisons despite having commented on such deficiency in a published report and in certain instances in a number of reports.”
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