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Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly

26th November 2016

The Board and staff of the Irish Penal Reform Trust were deeply saddened to hear today of the untimely passing of Ireland’s Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly.

As Inspector, Judge Reilly was unswerving in his commitment to ensuring respect of human rights and dignity in the prison system, and he had a deep compassion for the hardship and challenges faced by families outside.

Judge Reilly was appointed Inspector of Prisons on the 21st November 2007, and took up this role on 1st January 2008. In 2009, he set out his expectations for prisons in Ireland by way of his Standards for the Inspection of Prisons in Ireland and Standards for the Inspection of Prisons in Ireland - Juvenile Supplement, which he grounded firmly in national and international human rights law and standards.

In 2011, he issued his Standards for the Inspection of Prisons in Ireland - Women Prisoners' Supplement, in which he stated that treating women prisoners the same as men “is not tantamount to achieving equality of gender”, citing the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: 

"the concept of equality means much more than treating all persons in the same way. Equal treatment of persons in unequal situations will operate to perpetuate rather than eradicate injustice”.

His 2010 report on The Irish Prison Population - an examination of duties and obligations owed to prisoners was important in its assessment of the operational capacities of individual prisons according not only to cell size, but also in relation to the services and regimes (education, training, work) available.

In his examinations, Judge Reilly was rigorous in identifying root causes. In a case study in the 2010 Guidance on physical healthcare in a prison context, the Inspector detailed how in one special observation cell he had found a “prisoner was naked, was crawling on all fours on the floor, was covered in their own excrement and completely incoherent.” Judge Reilly made clear that prison staff were not failing in their duties, and were providing care to the prisoner despite not being trained to deal with these challenges; this situation had arisen because of a lack of spaces in the Central Mental Hospital: “The provision of sufficient beds in the CMH or other secure facility must be undertaken as a matter of urgency.”

Among his most critical and impactful inspection reports was the 2012 Report on an Inspection of St Patrick's Institution for Young Offenders. The report, as with all of the Inspector's reports, should be read in its entirety. In response to the Inspector’s report, then Minister for Justice Alan Shatter announced the closure of that prison.

The most recent inspection report published was An overview of Mountjoy Prison Campus with particular emphasis on the Separation Unit (Sept 2014) in which the Inspector recommended that “the Separation Unit should play no further part in the Irish Prison Service Estate”. Following the publication of the Review, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald TD announced that the Separation Unit of Mountjoy Prison had been closed.

Considering the critical importance of reports on inspections of individual prisons, IPRT regrets that none have been published since Sept 2014.

In recent years, the regular publication of the Inspector’s reports on his investigations into deaths occurring in prison custody and shortly after release from prison shone an important light on the day-to-day operations of the prison system, and the vulnerabilities faced by people on release from prison. While Judge Reilly acknowledged good performance by many staff in these reports, frustration at the failure to implement his recommendations across all 14 prisons was also evident in some reports.

A recurring concern of the Inspector was prisoners’ access to a robust and independent complaints mechanism, including his Guidance on Best Practice relating to Prisoners' Complaints and Prison Discipline (2010) and Suggested Prisoner Complaints Model for Irish Prisons (2012). In his most recently published report, Review, Evaluation and Analysis of the Operation of the present Irish Prison Service Complaints Procedure (June 2016) Judge Reilly found “[s]ignificant deficiencies relating to the operation of the prisoner complaints procedure” and proposed that prisoners should be entitled to bring complaints before a judicial or other authority, and that that authority should be the Ombudsman. IPRT strongly welcomed this recommendation, and the Tánaiste's acceptance of this proposal.

Another significant report was his overarching review of the Culture and Organisation in the Irish Prison Service: A Road Map for the Futurewhich was published in November 2015. 

Judge Reilly was always very generous in his engagement with the Irish Penal Reform Trust, participating as speaker in many of our events, and attending many, many more.

We are deeply saddened by this loss of a strong champion of the human rights of people detained in prison and of their families outside.

Our sincere condolences to his family, his friends and his colleagues.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

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