29th April 2022
In 2021, the Office of the Inspector of Prisons Ireland carried out thematic inspections of all twelve prisons in Ireland to assess treatment and conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. These inspections examined prisons in line with the 2020 Framework for the Inspection of Prisons in Ireland. The first four reports were published in August 2021, with an additional four (Arbour Hill Prison, Cork Prison, Portlaoise Prison and Shelton Abbey Open Centre) published in December 2021.
The final four reports on these thematic inspections were published on 28 April 2022. Several recommendations were made in three or more of these. These are as follows: (Key: M = Midlands, L = Loughan House, C = Castlerea, D = Dóchas Centre)
Many of these recommendations were also made in the previous eight reports.
Issues of note, per report –
Dóchas Centre: Tampons and pads were reported as not being consistently available in the house offices, and prisoners reported that younger women found it “embarrassing” to ask prison officers for these products. A small number of prisoners reported they were afraid to go to school because of previous experiences of bullying from other women in custody. Bullying manifested in many ways in the Dóchas Centre, and prisoners expressed frustration with the prison’s management of and response to bullying. Many of the women in the general prisoner population raised concerns with the Inspection Team about the women in the Healthcare/Committal Unit. One prisoner expressed concern for her cell-mate who had in the past self-harmed. During the course of inspection, the Inspection Team was informed of instances of women who had self-harmed, with one woman stating, “I’m crying out and no one’s helping.” Another woman explained that the only way she knew how to access services and support was to self-harm.
Midlands: Approx. 400 inmates (half the total population) were on a waiting list to see a psychologist and the waiting list for triage was six to 18 months. The Inspectorate was informed that Midlands Prison had the longest waiting list (up to two years) in the prison estate. The Inspectorate was informed that a small number of prison officers misgendered a prisoner. Many prisoners from the general prison population commented on their lack of faith in the complaints system. Prisoners stated that the complaint system was “open to intimidation” and that they could be put in situations where they felt compelled to withdraw complaints. One prisoner described his engagement with an ISM officer as sporadic, in which he met the ISM officer two years ago to discuss a plan on how to get to an open prison; however, he reported having had no follow-up engagement.
Loughan House: Due to the cancellation of programmes and services, prisoners were unable to participate and progress in their rehabilitation; life sentenced prisoners were unable to complete Parole Board recommendations. The requirement to quarantine following a period of temporary release resulted in a decreased number of prisoners availing of it.
Castlerea: Both staff and prisoners reported that inadequate healthcare staffing levels had a negative impact on healthcare provision in the prison. A small number of Foreign National prisoners reported issues regarding communication barriers. For example, the Inspection Team spoke with two Foreign National prisoners from the same country, where one of the prisoners relied on the other for translation. (Read IPRT’s recent research on foreign national and minority ethnic groups in the Irish penal system for more on this issue.)
All of the COVID-19 Thematic Inspection reports can be accessed on the Office of the Inspector of Prisons’ website.