22nd January 2013
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has today (22nd January 2013) strongly welcomed amendments to the Prison Rules, and the recruitment of 22 external investigators, which together bring a level of independence to prisoner complaints systems in Ireland for the first time. However, this must be matched by similar reform of existing monitoring structures, such as the Prisons Visiting Committees, and the establishment of an oversight mechanism fully independent of both the Irish Prison Service and the Minister for Justice, such as a Prisoner Ombudsman.
Speaking today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said.
“IPRT welcomes these changes, and the recognition by Minister Shatter that Prisoners are “in a particularly vulnerable position” and that they must have access to “a credible complaints system that deals with genuine complaints in an open, transparent, and independent way”.
However, the proper functioning of the complaints system will depend upon the full engagement by prison staff and management, alongside proactive information strategies within the prisons to ensure that all prisoners are made aware of the avenues of complaints and appeal now available to them.
Furthermore, it is crucial that the complaints system operates in such a way that no prisoner perceives any potential threat to their conditions or treatment through making a complaint. Prisoners must feel confident that there will be no impact on decision making around temporary release, access to education or workshops, special family visits, or any other discretionary privileges."
The Minister for Justice also published today the Annual Report 2011 of the St Patrick's Institution Visiting Committee. IPRT believes that the discrepancies between the Visiting Committee report and that of the Inspector of Prisons' following an inspection of the same prison in 2012 underlines the urgent need for the Government to fulfil its stated commitment to reviewing the existing functions and powers of the Prison Visiting Committees.
IPRT has previously identified a number of key areas which will be particularly important in measuring the effectiveness of a new complaints system:
Furthermore, IPRT has previously identified a number of other issues relating to prisons accountability, all of which are set out in our Position Paper on Complaints, Monitoring and Inspection in Prisons. These include:
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NOTES FOR EDITORS:
2. 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.