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Refusal of TR may have amounted to a failure to prevent torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment - IPRT

18th December 2014

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is gravely concerned at the process surrounding the decision taken by the Minister for Justice, the Department of Justice, and the Irish Prison Service to refuse temporary release to an elderly prisoner suffering from multiple severe medical conditions, who subsequently died in Midlands Prison in January 2012. The decision to refuse release was taken against both medical advice and the recommendation of prison management, and IPRT believes this may have amounted to a failure by the State to prevent torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

IPRT was responding to A Report by the Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly into the circumstances surrounding the death of Prisoner C in the Midlands Prison on 30th January 2012, which was published by the Minister for Justice and Equality yesterday (Wednesday 17th December 2014). In the report, the Inspector of Prisons found clear medical advice that the prison environment was exacerbating his ill-health; “no foundation whatsoever” for the Garda view that the prisoner would present a risk on release; and that the considerations which dictated the deceased’s continued detention did not pay sufficient regard to whether the prison could meet his health and care needs.

Serious concerns arising from the Report include:

  • The apparent failure to give adequate consideration to the requirements of Article 3 European Convention on Human Rights in taking the decision on temporary release;
  • The convention of excluding categories of offence from accessing temporary release;
  • The inability of the prison system to care for prisoners in advanced stages of severe ill-health, including the lack of a palliative care plan;
  • The reliance on other prisoners, in this instance, to care for the prisoner’s personal needs as his condition worsened;
  • The inability of the prison system to adequately care for prisoners with reduced mobility, requiring wheel-chairs and hospital type beds;
  • The apparent lack of protocol between An Garda Síochána and the Irish Prison Service for provision of Garda views on the risk presented by a prisoner, including sign off by a Senior Officer.

Responding today, IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone said:

"The failure to transfer Prisoner C, in the face of clear and unambiguous recommendations from both medical and operational staff, is wholly unacceptable and flies in the face of our international human rights law obligations. It is also of deep concern that other prisoners were called upon to meet some of the prisoner’s personal care needs; this is completely inappropriate, and calls into questions those prisoners’ rights."

"Where a prisoner is suffering from a serious medical condition that cannot be cared for adequately within the prison environment, and their ongoing detention subjects him or her to distress or hardship beyond the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention, then, as a matter of law, that prisoner should be released to a setting where such care can be provided.”

"The Inspector found “no foundation whatsoever” for the Garda view that the deceased would present a risk if released. If Garda views are to be sought in respect of current risk, and such views will inform important decisions on temporary release, then the criteria applied in such cases should be evidence-based, transparent, and not taken in an ad hoc fashion.”

Arising from this report, IPRT is calling for:

  • A review of protocol around decision-making on temporary release, which should include a review of the relevant legislation, and should carefully consider the compatibility of the legislation with the European Convention on Human Rights;
  • The establishment of a protocol between An Garda Síochána and the Irish Prison Service for presentation of Garda views on a prisoner’s suitability for release, which should be signed off by a Senior Officer;
  • Provision within the prison system of cells capable of accommodating wheelchairs and hospital style beds, plus relevant medical paraphernalia;
  • The Minister for Justice to expedite, with urgency, the proposed Inspection of Places of Detention Bill; and        
  • ensure that the necessary preventative structures are in place to ratify the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which Ireland signed in 2007.

IPRT was responding to A Report by the Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly into the circumstances surrounding the death of Prisoner C in the Midlands Prison on 30th January 2012, which was published by the Minister for Justice and Equality yesterday (Wednesday 17th December 2014).

For further comment, please contact: 087 181 2990

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. Inspector of Prisons’ Report on Death of Prisoner C – 2012

A Report by the Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly into the circumstances surrounding the death of Prisoner C in the Midlands Prison on 30th January 2012 is available here.

2. Ireland’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)

Under s.3 of the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003, every organ of the State has a clear duty to perform its functions in a manner compatible with the State’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 3 of the ECHR absolutely prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment. Ireland thus has a duty to ensure that prisoners are detained in conditions which are compatible with respect for human dignity.

Protecting prisoners from inhuman or degrading treatment will sometimes call for humanitarian measures, including release, particularly where the continued detention of a person whose condition is incompatible in the long term with a prison environment subjects him or her to distress or hardship of an intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention.

3. Inspection of Places of Detention Bill

The Programme of Government (March 2011) committed to strengthening the powers of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons. The drafting of a General Scheme of ‘Inspection of Places of Detention Bill’ was approved on 17 May 2011, but remains on the ‘C’ list of legislation in autumn 2014.

The legislation is intended to give legislative effect to the OPCAT (Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention Against Torture), strengthen the Office of the Inspector of Prisons, put the Council of Europe inspection regime on a statutory footing, and address matters relating to Prison Visiting Committees. See: http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/eng/Taoiseach_and_Government/Government_Legislation_Programme/

4. IPRT Position Paper 9: Reform of Remission, Temporary Release and Parole

IPRT has previously set out its recommendations for reform of the prison release system, including a call for a more transparent system of temporary release, setting out clear criteria. Reasons for the refusal of temporary release should be communicated clearly, and prisoners should have access to an appeal mechanism. Access the report here.

5.  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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