The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) today has given a cautious welcome to proposals for a new Prisoner Complaints system, which promises a level of independent oversight and accountability to the prison system for the first time. Today, the Minister for Justice and Equality has accepted proposals by the Inspector of Prisons for a system of complaints where investigation of serious complaints will be carried out by external investigators with an appeal to the Inspector.
Speaking today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said.
“It has long been clear that prisoners do not have any confidence in the existing system of prisoner complaints. IPRT has consistently identified the need for an effective system where prisoners can raise complaints about their treatment as an essential safeguard against abuse and mistreatment within the prison system. Prisoner complaints also raise fundamental issues about the culture of a prison and about how decisions are made within a prison system and, as in other areas of public administration, accountability is a crucial element to any process of prison reform.”
IPRT believes that the best model for independent investigation of complaints is a Prisoner Ombudsman (as exists in Northern Ireland). However, regardless of the model chosen, the key substantive test is whether the system is independent of prison management and whether it enjoys the confidence of the prison population. The Inspector of Prison’s recommendations contain all of the necessary elements for a robust and effective complaints process. If the new complaints system achieves that standard, then it will represent a major step forward for the Irish prison system and for prisoners’ rights.”
IPRT notes that the Inspector of Prisons recommends that his proposals are intended as a minimum standard for any new system of complaints; and that they should be reviewed after 12 months. IPRT has identified a number of key areas in the current proposals which will be particularly important in measuring the effectiveness of new system:
- The new system for serious complaints should be operational within the next three months and the full system should be in place within one year
- There is a need for training of staff and management on how to deal with complaints professionally
- There is also a need to inform prisoners about the new system and to make it accessible to them
- To achieve confidence in the system, information about the issues raised in complaints and about the outcome of investigations should be published regularly.
Finally, complaints are only one element of accountability in the prison system. IPRT has identified a number of other issues which also require urgent action, all of which are set out in our Position Paper on Complaints, Monitoring and Inspection in Prisons. These include:
- The Inspector of Prisons should be made accountable to the Oireachtas rather than to the Minister
- The Inspector’s Standards should be put on a statutory footing and a binding mechanism for the implementation of recommendations made by the Inspector of Prisons should be introduced
- The Government should fulfil its commitment to review the existing functions and powers of the Prison Visiting Committees, as well as the
- The Government to ratify without delay the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, and to establish effective National Preventative Mechanisms (NPM) under the Protocol
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NOTES FOR EDITORS:
- The Inspector of Prisons Report on Prisoner Complaints, published today, is available here
- The Press Release by the Minister for Justice and Equality is available here
- IPRT Position Paper on Accountability is available here
- IPRT Position Paper on Complaints, Monitoring and Inspection in Prisons is available here. Summary of recommendations available here
- The Inspector of Prisons has also submitted a report on St. Patrick’ Institution to the Minister for Justice and Equality on June 26th. As of today, the Minister has not published this report and IPRT regards the report as being of the highest importance, given the continuing detention of 17 year old boys at the Institution.
2. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) | www.iprt.ie
IPRT is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort.
3. IPRT Annual lecture | 20th Sept 2012.
The Honourable Mr Justice Colman Treacy will present IPRT’s Annual Lecture, which will address the work of the Sentencing Council of England and Wales, and the broader area of sentencing law. The event takes place Thursday 20th September, 2012 from 6-8pm in Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin 8. More details here