Chief Inspector of Prisons Mark Kelly carried out an unannounced full inspection of Mountjoy Men’s Prison late last year, the first such inspection for many years.
The move “heralds the resumption of our core business of regular inspections of all prisons in Ireland”, Kelly said in his office’s annual report.
The inspection team was “shocked” to find 38 prisoners sleeping on the floor of single-occupancy cells, the report says, with mattresses wedges against lavatories, and minimal out-of-cell time.
The root cause is the growing numbers being imprisoned, the report says, and the problem will escalate unless a cap on prisoner numbers is imposed.
In his foreword, Kelly said that his office is preparing for the transformation into the Inspectorate of Places of Detention (OIPD), with an expanded monitoring mandate including:
- Detention by An Garda Síochána,
- Detainee transport, and
- Court holding cells.
He said that justice minister Helen McEntee has been told that the general scheme of the OIPD bill is “insufficiently robust” as regards the functional independence of the new body.
Its range of future functions should also be clarified, the report says.
Shortly, the Office of the Inspector of Prisons is to be designated as a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) under the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention Against Torture (OPCAT).
Saoirse Brady (Irish Penal Reform Trust executive director) said: “The Places of Detention Bill, and the ratification of OPCAT, represents an historic opportunity to strengthen the culture of human rights within Irish detention facilities and put in place safeguards to ensure that some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society are protected.
“We would echo the chief inspector’s concerns around the first draft of the legislation being insufficiently robust to ensure that the new body will fulfil its OPCAT obligations.
“We cannot allow the upcoming Inspection of Places of Detention bill to progress without fully guaranteeing the independence of the future Office,” she said.
The prisoner complaints system is also not fit for purpose, the chief inspector's report states, and he is engaging with the Department of Justice to pursue alternative arrangements.
In accordance with Rule 44 of the Prison Rules, a prisoner is entitled to send and receive an unopened letter to and from the Inspector of Prisons.
Rule 44 letters were received concerned the following:
- Mental and physical healthcare concerns, including access to services and delays in treatments – 17,
- Dissatisfaction with the IPS complaints process – 12,
- Requests to meet with OIP staff – 11,
- Concerns around violent behaviours on the part of prison staff and fellow prisoners – 8,
- Concerns around visits – 7.