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ADVISORY: Effective external oversight of prison system is crucial

28th November 2015


Effective external oversight of prison system is crucial to public confidence in the prevention of human rights violations behind bars in Ireland - IPRT

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), Ireland’s leading penal reform organisation, today (Friday, 27th November 2015) held a major conference on the need for rigorous and effective external oversight of the Irish prison system. Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD opened the conference, during which she reaffirmed her commitment to criminal justice reform, to ongoing consultation around proposals for a criminal justice inspectorate, and acknowledged that while Ireland had made progress in terms of strengthening prisons accountability, there was still work to be done.

Existing mechanisms to prevent human rights violations occurring in the Irish penal system in Ireland include independent prison inspections and rigorous investigations into deaths occurring in prison custody. However, mechanisms for enforcing the implementation of recommendations are weak; no fully independent prisoner complaints mechanism exists; and Ireland has not yet met its commitments to ratify the Optional Protocol for the Prevention of Torture, which Ireland signed in 2007.

Speaking in advance of the conference, IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone said:

“IPRT warmly welcomes the consultative and constructive approach taken by the Minister for Justice and Equality towards how Ireland might meet its human rights obligations to prevent rights violations in closed institutions. 

An opportunity now exists to put in place the best model, informed by the practice and experience of the 62 countries that have already ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. 

Ireland prides itself on its reputation at international level as leader on the protection of human rights, including children's rights. It's time now to rise to meet this reputation by ensuring that the most grave abuses do not occur out of sight, behind prison walls and cell doors.”

On the occasion of the conference, IPRT calls on the Minister for Justice and Equality:

  • To commit to bringing forward proposals for a robust and effective external prisoner complaints mechanism, which is fully independent of the Irish Prison Service; 
  • To ensure that proposals for reform of prison and other criminal justice inspectorates are led by Ireland’s commitment to protection of human rights and prevention of torture first, and efficiency and effectiveness second;
  • To continue the consultative process already begun towards ratification of OPCAT; and
  • To progress the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill with urgency.

Speakers at the event included Nick Hardwick CBE, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, who addressed the critical role of robustly independent and impartial prison inspections, and the necessity of unfettered access behind bars; Professor Malcolm Evans, Chair of the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture, underlined the protective role of OPCAT in the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment behind bars; Professor Andrew Coyle, Emeritus Professor of Prison Studies in the University of London, spoke on the importance of public monitoring and independent inspection of prisons; and the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, spoke on issues arising from his review of the culture of the Irish Prison Service.

The IPRT Conference ‘Securing Accountability: Building effective prison monitoring, inspection, and complaints systems’ took place on Friday 27th November 2015 in the Spencer Hotel, IFSC, Dublin 1. The conference was strongly attended by senior representatives of the Department of Justice, the Irish Prison Service, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, former prisoners, and organisations working in the area of prisoner resettlement and support, among others.

For further comment, photos, or an interview with speakers, please contact Fíona on: 087 181 2990


1. IPRT Conference | 27 Nov 2015 | Securing Accountability

IPRT held a conference on ‘Securing Accountability: Building effective prison monitoring, inspection, and complaints systems’ on Friday 27th November 2015 in the Spencer Hotel, IFSC, Dublin 1. The conference was opened by Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD.

Speakers included:

  • HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick CBE
  • Professor Malcolm Evans, Chair of the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture
  • Professor Andrew Coyle, Emeritus Professor of Prison Studies in the University of London
  • Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly
  • Dr Mary Rogan, Head of Law, Dublin Institute of Technology
  • Prof Ian O’Donnell, University College Dublin
  • Deirdre Duffy, Deputy Director, Irish Council for Civil Liberties

A panel discussion, chaired by Dr. Cormac Behan (University of Sheffield), heard responses from a number of stakeholders, including: Mr Jimmy Martin, Assistant Secretary, Dept of Justice and Equality; Mr Fergal Black, Director of Care and Rehabilitation, Irish Prison Service; and Mr Noel Dowling, Prisons and Probation Policy, Dept of Justice.

Full details about the conference, including biographies of speakers, are available here:http://www.iprt.ie/conference-2015-securing-accountability

2. Ratification of OPCAT

Ireland signed the OPCAT (Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) in October 2007, but has yet to ratify it. The commitment to ratify remains in the 'C' list of legislation, within the proposed 'Inspection of Places of Detention Bill' which has as its intention: “To give legislative effect to the OPCAT, strengthen Prisons Inspectorate, put Council of Europe inspection regime on a statutory footing and address matters relating to Prison Visiting Committees.” The heads of the Bill have yet to be approved by Government, with a current status of: "Publication Expected – 2016”.


3. CPT Report on Ireland published 17 November 2015

The Council of Europe Committee on the Prevention of Torture and Degrading Treatment (CPT) most recent visit to Ireland took place from 16th to 26th September 2014, during which the Committee also examined detention in Garda stations and psychiatric institutions. The CPT reports on visits to Ireland along with the Government’s response are published at: http://www.cpt.coe.int/en/states/irl.htm

A summary of critical issues identified in the CPT report is available here: http://www.iprt.ie/contents/2816

4. 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: http://inspectorofprisons.gov.ie/

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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