Prisoner at ‘unprecedented’ risk of suicide

The partner of a prisoner deemed to be at “unprecedented” risk of suicide said she was extremely concerned for his welfare during a prison visit just days before he was found dead in his cell.

Prisoner at ‘unprecedented’ risk of suicide

Roy O’Driscoll’s partner, Jenna Lane, told an inquest yesterday that she was so worried she sought a meeting with the governor of Cork Prison to discuss her concerns.

And it emerged that Mr O’Driscoll, 25, from Summerhill, in Mallow, Co Cork, had been transferred from Portlaoise Prison just days earlier — where a senior nurse staff member deemed him to be at unprecedented risk of suicide —to Cork Prison, without consultation with Portlaoise medical staff.

Mr O’Driscoll, who was serving a seven-year jail term for assault, was found dead in his cell in Cork Prison’s D-unit just days later, on May 10, 2013.

Ms Lane told Cork City Coroner’s court that when she last visited her partner in Portlaoise on April 27, 2013, he was his usual self.

But she said when she next visited him at Cork Prison on May 5, the change in him was “incredible”.

“Roy had his head in his hands on the table. He was wearing prison clothes, he was unshaven, unwashed, and his hair was untidy,” she said.

“His nails had been eaten off almost completely and the skin around the tops of his fingers was bleeding. He wasn’t the usual Roy.

“I’d never seen him in such a condition. He was confused, in and out of conversation, and what conversation there was, was confused.”

She told the chief prison officer she wanted him checked. She said she spoke to Roy’s father, James, later, and he expressed his concerns to the governor.

Earlier, the inquest was told that concerns for Mr O’Driscoll’s mental health were mounting in Portlaoise from early April.

An anonymous note had been passed under his cell door complaining about his personal hygiene, and another note had urged him to kill himself.

He felt he was being bullied by other inmates, he became withdrawn, refused to do his landing cleaning work, and refused to leave his cell.

Amid concerns he was suffering from a possible depressive illness, he was placed on an at-risk supervision routine, and checked by prison staff every 15 minutes while locked in his cell.

The prison’s senior nurse manager, Karl Shelly, said by April 30, the medical team agreed Mr O’Driscoll was at ‘heightened risk’ of suicide.

Mr Shelly said he hadn’t ever seen anybody with this level of risk — it was an “unprecedented” level of risk, he said.

Chief officer of Portlaoise Prison at the time, Paddy Brennan, who has since retired, said prison officers have no access to an inmate’s medical records, and didn’t know why Mr O’Driscoll was under special supervision.

Mr O’Driscoll was disciplined after starting a fight with another inmate on April 29, 2013, and sought a transfer to Cork Prison, arriving on May 1 2013.

Mr Shelly said medical staff at Portlaoise found out about the transfer afterwards.

He told city coroner, Dr Myra Cullinane, that had he known about the transfer, he would have advised against it.

While transfer decisions are a matter for governors, he said the Irish Prison Service (IPS) has transfer protocols which allow a ‘red-flag’ to be raised in specific medical or mental health cases.

But Ultan Moran, the operational governor of Portlaoise, noted from a management point of view that despite their concerns for Mr O’Driscoll, the medical staff had not opted to place him in a safety observation cell.

Cork Prison GP, Dr George O’Mahony, assessed Mr O’Driscoll the day after his transfer to Cork, and directed he be placed under special observation in D-unit after he complained of low mood and expressing thoughts of self-harm.

He said he felt Mr O’Driscoll’s mental health issues were being aggravated by perceived pressures from other inmates.

Former prison psychiatrist, Dr Eugene Morgan, assessed Mr O’Driscoll on May 3 and 4 and found him confused and difficult to engage with.

By May 7, he said Mr O’Driscoll was expressing fleeting ideas of self-harm and was not actively suicidal, but he decided he should stay in D-unit.

Mr O’Driscoll was found dead in the cell on May 10.

The inquest continues today.

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