No prisoner Ombudsman until late 2021

No prisoner Ombudsman until late 2021

A new prisoner complaints system should be rolled out by the end of this month. File Picture.

A new complaints system for prisoners will be rolled out by the end of November but the Ombudsman will not begin managing prisoner complaints until late 2021, the Irish Prison Service (IPS) has confirmed.

A new dedicated complaints unit has been established at the service's Longford headquarters, which will be staffed by three officials.

The prison service received 652 complaints across six categories by the end of September but is now set to move to a simpler model that will only categorise complaints as “serious” or “less serious”.

Under the new system, serious complaints will be investigated by independent, external investigators while less serious complaints will be investigated by prison service staff.

The Ombudsman, however, will not assume a role in managing complaints until late 2021, the prison service said. 

It is expected the Office of the Ombudsman will address complaints from prisoners who are dissatisfied with the outcome provided by the Irish Prison Service to their complaint in approximately 12 months from approximately the end of 2021

While welcoming the new complaints system, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) expressed disappointment that the Ombudsman would not have a role for another year.

“Confidence in the prison complaints system is important any time but it is critically important during Covid-19, when prisoners are entirely dependent on prison staff for their care and safety. Prisoners have reduced access to the outside world, and there are fewer external eyes in prisons. Robust monitoring and oversight must be in place to ensure rights are being met behind prison walls,” IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said.

It is five years since the Inspector of Prison's recommended the Ombudsman have a role, and 35 years since the Whitaker Report first made the recommendation.

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