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Prisoner death underlines need for single cell occupancy and risk assessment to ensure prisoner safety

9th November 2015

IPRT MEDIA ADVISORY

Single cell occupancy must be the norm and not a privilege, and adequate risk assessment must be conducted by prison management before accommodating prisoners in shared cells, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has stated today. Furthermore, IPRT calls on the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD to introduce a statutory mechanism whereby recommendations arising from investigations into prison deaths by the Inspector of Prisons are implemented and enforced.

IPRT was responding to A Report by the Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly into the circumstances surrounding the death of Prisoner B in the Midlands Prison on 12th February 2013, which was published by the Minister for Justice and Equality today (Monday 9th November 2015).

The report details the tragic death of an older prisoner from cardiac arrest “precipitated by blunt force trauma to the head and trunk” following an assault in his cell. The death occurred in the new section of Midlands Prison, which houses prisoners considered to be at risk from the general prison population due to the nature of their offences. A doctor had previously noted that the prisoner “should be in a single cell considering his condition and vulnerability” but the Inspector found that no meaningful assessment had been carried out in this respect.

Among the issues raised in the report are: the accommodation of a 61-year-old elderly asthmatic prisoner of poor health in a cell with a 31-year-old smoker found previously to be “volatile”; the presence of a “hooch” still and two sticks in the cell; and the lack of an internal review of prison procedures following the death of the prisoner.

Responding today, IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone said:

“The Irish Prison Service failed in its duty of care to this vulnerable prisoner. Again and again we are seeing administrative and procedural failures surrounding deaths in prison. IPRT is now calling on the Minister for Justice to introduce a statutory mechanism whereby recommendations of the Inspector of Prisons arising from investigations into deaths in prison are implemented, and further potential deaths avoided."

"Single cell accommodation and robust risk assessment in prisons is not a luxury: it is essential because it protects prisoners’ safety, reduces tensions on landings, and makes prisons more manageable and safer for staff. Double-occupancy of cells should only be used in exceptional circumstances, or where requested by prisoners."

“Although mental health and overcrowding do not appear to be contributory factors in this case, the Report recalls the tragic death of Gary Douch in Mountjoy Prison 2006 in terms of inadequate assessment of prisoners for their suitability to share cells. Almost 10 years later, it is now beyond question that lessons must be learned from these tragic cases, and all recommendations implemented.”

Arising from this report, IPRT is calling for:

  • A policy of single-cell accommodation as the norm across the prison system, in line with international best practice and the European Prison Rules;
  • A review of the protocol governing assessment of prisoners’ suitability for cell-sharing;
  • A statutory mechanism to ensure that recommendations arising from investigations into prison deaths are implemented and enforced; and
  • 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.

For further comment or an interview with IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone, please contact Fíona on: 087 181 2990

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. Inspector of Prisons’ Report on Death of Prisoner B – 2013IPRT was responding to A Report by the Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly into the circumstances surrounding the death of Prisoner B in the Midlands Prison on 12th February 2013, which was published by the Minister for Justice and Equality today (Monday 9th November 2015). The report is available here.

2. Prison Culture Report

Culture and Organisation in the Irish Prison Service: A Road Map for the Future’ was conducted by the Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly in collaboration with Professor Andrew Coyle. The reportwas launched by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD, on Tuesday 3rd November 2015. The report is available here.

3. IPRT Conference | 27 Nov 2015 | Securing Accountability

IPRT will hold a conference on Monitoring, Inspection, and Complaints in the Irish prison system in the Spencer Hotel, Dublin 1 on Friday 27th November 2015. Speakers will include:

  • HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick
  • Professor Malcolm Evans, Chair of the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture
  • Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly
  • Professor Andrew Coyle, Emeritus Professor of Prison Studies in the University of London
  • Dr Mary Rogan, Dublin Institute of Technology
  • Dr Cormac Behan, University of Sheffield

Details available here: http://www.iprt.ie/contents/2792

4. 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.