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Prisoner Complaints: CPT criticism and IPS response

14th February 2011

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) has responded to criticisms of prison complaints procedures contained in the CPT report (European Committee for the Prevention of Torture or Inhuman or Degrading Punishment) published last Thursday. IPRT believes that the discrepancy between the findings of the CPT and the IPS response further supports the need for a fully independent complaints mechanism, to support both prisoners and prison staff alike.

This echoes calls made by the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan last Wednesday, at the launch of her report Young People in St Patrick's Institution, for an extension of her remit to receive individual complaints from children held in St Patrick's. (More details here.)

The Ombusman of Ireland, Emily O'Reilly, has also called for an extension of the Ombudsman remit to include the prisons. (More details here.)

Writing in The Irish Times, Conor Lally reports on the IPS response to questions raised in the CPT report about alleged prison officer assaults and subsequent investigations. Brian Purcell, Director General of the IPS, says a new, comprehensive system of dealing with prisoner complaints and allegations had been introduced in January 2010. 

The Irish Examiner also reports on the new procedures, which require that full details of the claim must now be entered in a standardised journal. Prisoners will get to liaise with Gardaí on the complaint, and will be kept updated on the progress of the investigation. Management will also have to continue their inquiries, even when the complainant has been released from custody.

Shortcomings in complaints procedures and investigations have also been raised by the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, since he was appointed two years ago.

The Irish Times reports that on his visit to inspect Mountjoy Prison in November 2008, Judge Reilly found insufficient detail recorded on complaints made by prisoners - in some cases, the name of the prison officer against whom the complaint was made had not been entered. The records are maintained by staff, and include all official complaints made by prisoners, up to and including allegations of serious assault.

The article notes that the Inspector received a number of allegations of ill-treatment of prisoners by a minority of prison officers between November 2008 and February 2009. On examining the complaints book again, he noted that 67 complaints between January 2008 and May 2009 had not been investigated properly. In a meeting with the secretary general of the Department of Justice, Seán Aylward, he outlined his concerns to this end.

Following this, a Garda investigation team was established to examine the claims. Prison officers and inmates were interviewed, and investigations arising from the 67 complaints resulted in 46 files being sent to the DPP, which recommended no charges in 44 cases.

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