However, only a small proportion of complaints were upheld following investigation.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald revealed that a total of 348 Category A complaints were made against prison staff and other prisoners in the past three and a half years. Figures provided by the Irish Prison Service show that just 18 complaints have been validated, while 249 complaints — almost three in every four — were not upheld.
One complaint was not proven while 57 complaints have not yet been fully investigated. A total of 23 complaints were terminated under the Prison Rules whereby a prison governor seeks an explanation why a complaint is withdrawn by a prisoner to ensure it was not as the result of a threat or intimidation.
The prison governor must forward a report on the case to the director general of the Irish Prison Service who decides whether the investigation can be terminated or should continue.
Allegations of assault account for more than half of all complaints made by prisoners. Racial attacks are the second most common type of complaint with 69 reported incidents, representing a fifth of the total.
There were also 42 complaints relating to mistreatment of prisoners as well as 27 classified as ‘sexual’. Another 27 complaints were made concerning threats and intimidation.
The Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, has recently carried out a review of the prisoners complaint procedure operated by the Irish Prison Service and made a number of recommendations including the possible role for a Prison Ombudsman.
In reply to a parliamentary question by Independent TD, Clare Daly, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said she and her officials were currently examining the inspector’s recommendations.
“The intention was to have robust procedures in place which would give prisoners access to a credible complaints system that deals with genuine complaints in an open, transparent, and independent way,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
The system is categorised based on the nature of the complaints with the most serious type such as physical assaults or serious intimidation classified as a Category A case.
Category B complaints include allegations of discrimination, verbal abuse by prison officers and inappropriate searches, while Category C complaints relate to cases where prisoners are unhappy with the level of service by prison authorities. Category D complaints are those made against professionals providing services to prisoners such as doctors and dentists.
Under legislation, Category A complaints are examined by investigators from outside the Irish Prison Service whose reports are sent to the relevant prison governor as well as the director general of the Irish Prison Service and the Inspector of Prisons. A panel of 22 external investigators were recruited to examine such complaints.
Official figures show that Cloverhill Prison has accounted for almost a quarter of all serious complaints by prisoners — a total of 86 since November 2012.
Prisoners in Mountjoy have made 56 serious complaints over the same period.