Irish Penal Reform Trust

IPRT response to actions taken by the IPS in relation to deaths in custody

24th April 2019

Two articles focusing on the handling of deaths in prison custody by Michael Clifford were published in the Irish Examiner today.

The circumstances surrounding a death in custody report published by the Department of Justice in March 2018, reported on in August by the Irish Examiner, brought to light concerns repeatedly highlighted by previous prison inspectors around the accuracy of prison records. The inquest into this death was recently completed and found that CCTV footage did not match written records of monitoring the prisoner in question.

One of the articles published today cites information sent to all staff by the Director General of the Irish Prison Service, Caron McCaffrey, reminding them about their obligations as set out in Standard Operating Procedures and the consequences for failure to adhere to these procedures.

Ms McCaffrey, appointed to the role of Director General in December 2018, reportedly stated that regulations are now in place to allow for chief officers to check whether monitoring has been properly complied with. She said: “This will allow prison management to identify non-compliance at an early stage and take action rather than responding to a tragic incident that may have resulted in the loss of life.” In addition, the article states that prison governors are scheduled to meet with all staff across the prison estate to raise further awareness about the rules in relation to monitoring prisoners, in particular those who are in special observation cells.

Given the serious and tragic nature of deaths in custody, IPRT has long highlighted the repeated findings by the Inspector of Prisons of insufficient record-keeping by Irish Prison Service staff.

Currently, there is no duty on the Irish Prison Service to act on recommendations made by the Inspector of Prisons in reports on investigations into deaths in custody. In response to Ireland’s last review by the CPT, which noted shortcomings in the internal investigation of deaths in custody, the Irish Government stated that new structures and processes will be introduced by the Director General of the Irish Prison Service at service and individual prison level to ensure that lessons are learned from serious incidents. The CPT report and the Government’s response was published in November 2015. The CPT is due to visit Ireland again during 2019.

While new regulations to better ensure compliance with procedures are a positive step, in the interest of accountability, IPRT continues to call for the Irish Prison Service to publish its progress on the implementation of recommendations arising from the Inspector of Prisons’ reports on investigations into deaths in prison custody.

The articles are available to read on the Irish Examiner website here and here.

Read more:

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.

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