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Prisoner-complaints system ‘not fit for purpose’

15 Sep 2022 / justice Print

Prisoner-complaints system ‘not fit for purpose’

The Office of the Inspector of Prisons (OIP) has said that the current system for prisoner complaints is “not fit for purpose”.

“Despite evidence being provided year-on-year that the process is flawed, the status quo remains,” former Chief Inspector Patricia Gilheaney wrote in the office’s annual report.

She described it as “unacceptable” that people in prison in Ireland were denied “a fair, effective complaints system”.

The report said that the office was concerned about some cases where an independent investigator appointed by the Irish Prison Service (IPS) found grounds for a prisoner’s complaint, but the governor assigned to review the findings did not uphold them.

Work on rules ‘underway’

Responding to the concerns, the Department of Justice said that work was underway on drafting new Prison Rules, and on preparation for the establishment of a new complaints system within the IPS.

“While implementation has been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, significant preparatory work for the introduction of the new system has been advanced,” it said.

Gilheaney, who retired in February this year, also expressed the hope that the Government would ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) this year, having set a target of 2021.

OPCAT is an international human-rights treaty that helps countries to prevent torture and other forms of ill-treatment in places of detention.

The department said that Minister for Justice Helen McEntee hoped that a bill allowing for the ratification of OPCAT would be published “as soon as possible”, paving the way for Ireland to ratify in 2023.

COVID reports

The annual report shows that the office carried out 12 inspections linked to COVID-19 during 2021, and made 242 recommendations as a result.

All 12 were submitted to the Minister for Justice, and eight have been published.

These inspections highlighted a number of concerns arising from COVID-19 restrictions – including the impact of periods of quarantine and isolation, restrictions on in-prison visits, a lack of written information on quarantine for prisoners, and a lack of rehabilitation services.

During 2021, the number of deaths in custody reported to the OIP fell by almost 40% – from 13 in 2020 to eight.

By the end of 2021, the minister had published 10 of the 18 Investigation reports linked to deaths in custody, which included some reports from previous years.

Gazette Desk
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