Wardens may be punished for locked-out prisoner incident

Prison staff in the country’s newest jail could face disciplinary action after an inmate was accidentally locked outside in the exercise yard overnight.

James McDonagh, a brother of Martin McDonagh, the inmate at the centre of the incident at the new €45m Cork Prison, said his family had feared for Martin’s safety.

“It was a very cold night. He could have been found dead in the yard the next morning,” James McDonagh told The Opinion Line on Cork’s 96FM yesterday.

“They have 300 cameras in the prison. They have to know where a prisoner is. They have dogs, security alarms, and cameras. They should have noticed.”

The jail opened in January, replacing the facility on nearby Rathmore Rd. The Irish Prison Service (IPS) hailed its improved security arrangements, its sophisticated network of CCTV cameras, and its new internal exercise yards which were designed to minimise the risk of contraband being thrown over the external prison walls.

Martin McDonagh, aged in his 20s, is serving a jail term for several counts of burglary, trespassing and criminal damage. He was in custody on February 29 and made a court appearance on March 1.

When he was returned to the prison that day, he was given access to one of the internal exercise yards.

It is understood that his return was not communicated during a staff handover, and prison staff on lockdown duty that night were under the mistaken impression that he had not returned from the court appearance.

As a result, when a head count was done on the cells that night, Martin McDonagh’s absence was not flagged as unusual.

He spent the night locked outside in a small exercise yard, and had to do star-jumps to keep warm.

Despite waving frantically at CCTV cameras and shouting for help, he was not discovered until around 7.30am. He was taken to another court hearing in Tralee that day.

The IPS said that new operational procedures have since been introduced to ensure such a mistake cannot happen again.

Its internal investigation is focusing on the communication breakdown and on how the exercise yards are monitored overnight.

A spokesman said the probe is ongoing and, once complete, it will be up to the governor of Cork Prison to decide whether staff should face disciplinary action.


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