Investigation into malpractice at women's prison ongoing 

Investigation into malpractice at women's prison ongoing 

The women’s Dóchas centre prison in Mountjoy. Picture: Collins, Dublin.

A statutory investigation into allegations of serious malpractice in the women’s Dóchas centre prison is ongoing, the Irish Examiner has learned. 

The justice minister ordered the inquiry after issues were brought to her attention by Inspector of Prisons Patricia Gilheany.

The allegations concern a Category A complaint from a prisoner that she was induced by two senior staff members to make a complaint about another staff member. 

Category A is the most serious complaint within the prison system, and more often than not is dealt with by retaining an outside agency to investigate.

Personnel in the Inspector of Prisons Office were contacted about the issue.

According to one source, once Ms Gilheaney became aware of the situation, she contacted justice minister Helen McEntee and briefed her. 

Ms McEntee then ordered a statutory investigation into the matter.

Justice minister Helen McEntee ordered the inquiry after issues were brought to her attention by  Inspector of Prisons Patricia Gilheany. File picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Justice minister Helen McEntee ordered the inquiry after issues were brought to her attention by  Inspector of Prisons Patricia Gilheany. File picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

“The inspector obviously saw that there was the possibility that her office could get dragged into this thing so she acted fast and brought it to the minister’s attention,” said the source.

The statutory investigation follows a series of other controversies in the women’s prison, including the annual report of the prison chaplain, published in the Irish Examiner, which highlighted chronic overcrowding, xenophobic and threatening abuse directed at inmates, and major difficulties around access to visits.

In late September, the chaplain, Claire Hargaden, left her post on sick leave, citing work-related stress. She wrote to the director-general of the IPS, stating that the inmates had described their lives to her as “hell”.

“The women in custody here report to me that they live in fear,” wrote Ms Hargaden. 

"Upon making a complaint, some have found themselves under a spotlight and victims of harassment and further unfair treatment."

A spokesperson for the department confirmed that an investigation under Section 31(2) of the Prisons Act 2007 is currently under way.

“Under the terms of reference for the investigation, a preliminary report was required by the end of October. However, the inspector has indicated that she will require further time to conclude the investigation, and a report is now expected in early December.

“Upon receipt of that report, the minister will consider what further action may be warranted.”

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