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IPRT welcomes new laws strengthening internal Prisoner Complaints system, but need for independent complaints mechanism remains

22nd January 2013

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has today (22nd January 2013) strongly welcomed amendments to the Prison Rules, and the recruitment of 22 external investigators, which together bring a level of independence to prisoner complaints systems in Ireland for the first time. However, this must be matched by similar reform of existing monitoring structures, such as the Prisons Visiting Committees, and the establishment of an oversight mechanism fully independent of both the Irish Prison Service and the Minister for Justice, such as a Prisoner Ombudsman.

Speaking today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said.

“IPRT welcomes these changes, and the recognition by Minister Shatter that Prisoners are “in a particularly vulnerable position” and that they must have access to “a credible complaints system that deals with genuine complaints in an open, transparent, and independent way”. 

However, the proper functioning of the complaints system will depend upon the full engagement by prison staff and management, alongside proactive information strategies within the prisons to ensure that all prisoners are made aware of the avenues of complaints and appeal now available to them.

Furthermore, it is crucial that the complaints system operates in such a way that no prisoner perceives any potential threat to their conditions or treatment through making a complaint. Prisoners must feel confident that there will be no impact on decision making around temporary release, access to education or workshops, special family visits, or any other discretionary privileges."

The Minister for Justice also published today the Annual Report 2011 of the St Patrick's Institution Visiting Committee. IPRT believes that the discrepancies between the Visiting Committee report and that of the Inspector of Prisons' following an inspection of the same prison in 2012 underlines the urgent need for the Government to fulfil its stated commitment to reviewing the existing functions and powers of the Prison Visiting Committees.

IPRT has previously identified a number of key areas which will be particularly important in measuring the effectiveness of a new complaints system:

  • 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

Furthermore, IPRT has previously identified a number of other issues relating to prisons accountability, 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 for Justice
  • 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
  • The Government should ratify without delay the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, and establish effective National Preventative Mechanisms (NPM) under the Protocol

For all media enquiries, or to arrange an interview, please contact Fíona on 087 181 2990

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

1. Reports:

  • Prison Rules (Amendment) 2013 and Press Release
  • Inspector of Prisons' Report on Prisoner Complaints, published August 2012, available here
  • IPRT Position Paper on Complaints, Monitoring and Inspection in Prisons available here. Summary of recommendations available here
  • IPRT Prison Law Paper: Accountability Structures and The Law Regulating Irish Prisons is available here

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.

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