Watchdog calls for routine searches after unresponsive prisoner found with 22 heroin wraps

Watchdog calls for routine searches after unresponsive prisoner found with 22 heroin wraps
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The prison watchdog has called for regular routine and unannounced searches of prison cells after 22 wraps of heroin were found with a prisoner discovered in an unresponsive state in Mountjoy who subsequently died in hospital.

A new report by the Inspector of Prisons into the death of the unnamed, 31-year-old male, also criticises delays in fixing broken CCTV cameras in Mountjoy which, it claimed, compromised the security of prisoners.

It revealed that the total amount of heroin found in the prisoner’s cell was 1.965 grams.

The inspector, Patricia Gilheaney, said the father of two, who was serving a 12-month sentence for drug-related offences, was found unresponsive in his cell at 8.05am on June 15, 2018.

The man, a protected prisoner because of his fear of fighting with other inmates, was provided with emergency medical attention before being brought by ambulance to the Mater Hospital where he died 10 days later without regaining consciousness.

Ms Gilheany was informed that cursory cell inspections were carried out daily but there was no record of a more detailed search of any cell on the prisoner’s wing in Mountjoy in the first half of 2018.

“Searching, both routine and unannounced, is a fundamental safety requirement in prisons,” said Ms Gilheany. She said her investigation was unable to determine how the prisoner had come into the possession of drugs.

The man had denied having a history of drug use on his committal to prison and did not receive any medical treatment for drug-related issues.

However, he had been prescribed a range of medicines including anti-inflammatories, vitamin supplements and antidepressants.

The report also said nothing was found to back up the family’s suggestion that he was severely under the influence of drugs in the gym and prison yard on the evening before he was found in an unresponsive state.

Ms Gilheany said it was “a very serious matter” that the CCTV system on the landing where the prisoner had been housed had not been working for a month. She also said the failure of prison staff to notice that CCTV cameras were not working for 11 days in the area where prisoners received visits was “difficult to understand”.

Asked if staff in the control room should have noticed the camera failures, an IPS told the inspector they did not know the answer as they did not work there. “This is an inadequate response,” Ms Gilheany observed.

The family also complained that they had heard he had died via Facebook on the morning that he had been brought to hospital from the prison.

Ms Gilheany said she had been informed by Mountjoy’s governor that a number of prisoners may have put information out on social media via illicit mobile phones in the prison.

The IPS fully accepted 11 out of 12 recommendations made by the watchdog including the need to prioritise death in custody investigations and adhering to the protocol of providing all relevant material to the Inspector of Prisons within seven days of a prisoner’s death.

In response to the recommendation to carry out regular routine and unannounced cell searches for illicit material, the IPS said it carried out targeted and general searches “insofar as resources allow”.

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