Jury recommends high-support units for all prisons

High-support units should be introduced in all Irish prisons and prison staff should get ongoing training on mental health issues, an inquest jury recommended yesterday after returning a verdict of suicide in the case of a prisoner who was found dead in his cell over three years ago.

The jury at Cork City Coroner’s Court also recommended improved information exchange between prison medical staff and prison staff, and the commencement of and funding for the Irish Prison Service psychology strategy.

The recommendations came at the conclusion of the inquest into the death of Roy O’Driscoll, aged 25, from Summerhill, Mallow, Co Cork, in a cell in the former Cork Prison on May 10, 2013.

He had been serving a seven-year term for assault, and had been transferred from Portlaoise Prison to Cork on May 1.

He had been classed by medical staff in Portlaoise as being at an “unprecedented” risk of suicide just days beforehand, but was transferred to Cork without their knowledge.

He was placed on his own in a high-support cell in the former Cork Prison’s D-unit and was last checked, and seen sitting on his cell bed, at 2.10pm on May 10, 2013.

However, he was found unresponsive at 2.25pm.

He was pronounced dead a short time later.

A postmortem performed by assistant state pathologist Dr Margot Bolster confirmed the cause of death was asphyxia due to suspension by a ligature, and the findings, she said, were consistent with self-suspension.

After hearing four days of evidence spread across several months, the jury returned a verdict of death by suicide, and issued four recommendations in the hope that future similar deaths can be avoided.

The inquest previously heard Dr George O’Mahony GP assessed Mr O’Driscoll the day after his transfer from Portlaoise Prison to Cork Prison and, amid concerns for his mental health, directed that he be placed in one of D-unit’s three medical observation cells.

Prisoners in these cells get a daily GP visit and twice daily nursing visits. They also have access to a prison issue bed sheet and towel.

Following visits from consultant psychiatrist, Dr Eugene Morgan, over the following days it was determined Mr O’Driscoll should remain in this cell for continuing observation. But D-unit prison officers said the only information they had about Mr O’Driscoll’s condition was that he was under special observation.


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