12th January 2021
The Minister for Justice published the Office of the Inspector of Prisons Strategic Plan 2020-2023 on 12th January 2021. The Strategy sets out the vision for the Inspectorate from 2020 until the end of 2023, identifying the actions required to realise these.
IPRT welcomes the importance the Strategy places on a preventative regime of inspections. This supports the preventative mandate of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT), which the Government has committed to ratify and implement by the end of 2021. More info on OPCAT here.
IPRT’s view is that the increase in the resourcing of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons since 2018 demonstrates a commitment by the Minister and Government to the prevention of ill-treatment and torture through improved oversight of places of detention. However, strengthening of the Inspectorate’s powers in law - for example, the power to publish reports directly - is also necessary to ensure OPCAT-compliance and full independence. More info on the principles that should inform legislation to ratify OPCAT here.
The Strategy states, with the support of the Department of Justice, the Office will put in place the resources required to complete one general inspection by end of February 2021. Echoing our concerns from throughout the pandemic, it is of extreme concern that there has been no published independent oversight report of Ireland’s prisons during this crisis. This means that prevailing conditions in Irish prisons are unknown. Once received, the report on this inspection should be published by the Minister without delay in order to allow for response and scrutiny in real-time.
The Strategy also states that by the end of 2023, a minimum of six full inspections will have been completed. Given that there have been no published inspection reports of any closed prison in Ireland by the Inspectorate since 2014, it is imperative that all necessary resources are allocated to support the inspection of all prisons in Ireland as a matter of urgency. It is important to note the preventative and improvement function of inspections, including the identification of good practice where it exists.
While the Strategy states that the Inspectorate will deliver on any new duties requested by the Minister or obliged by legislation, IPRT reiterates that it is essential that any new duties imposed on the Office do not move resources away from prison-related inspections. It is paramount that the Inspectorate first delivers on its existing mandate before acquiring additional duties. This should be carefully considered in light of the upcoming ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).
According to the strategy, 100% of Death in Custody investigations will be completed and a report submitted to the Minister for Justice as soon as practicable, but no later than 12 months from the date of death. This is welcome. IPRT is clear that investigations into deaths occurring in prison custody must be prompt to ensure that any systemic issues are identified and addressed in order to prevent potential future deaths. IPRT remains concerned about delays in publishing these reports once they are submitted to the Minister, as they play important preventive and improvement role.
While it is positive to see the oversight function of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons in the Irish Prison Service Prisoner Complaints Process referenced in the Strategy, we remain concerned that the timeline for the introduction of a new internal complaints system has been further delayed. Access to a robust complaints process is a critical safeguard for the protection of human rights of prisoners at all times, but especially during a pandemic when prisoners have reduced access to regimes and there are fewer external eyes on prisons.
While we remain concerned about the prevailing conditions in Irish prisons, IPRT looks forward to the delivery of a robust regime for the inspection of prisons in Ireland in the years ahead.
The Office of the Inspector of Prisons Strategic Plan 2020 – 2023 is available to read in full here.