Irish Penal Reform Trust

Statement on Irish Times report: ‘Prison Service tries to stop racist staff posts’

24th February 2021

"IPRT is shocked and seriously concerned by the front-page report in today’s Irish Times that an online Facebook group for prison officers contains racist and anti-Traveller material. The report details a number of concerning posts that have recently appeared on the group. These reportedly include the sharing of a graphic video depicting prisoner-on-prisoner mistreatment as well as posts containing racist and offensive language, particularly in reference to the recent shooting of George Nchenko in December 2020. If verified, these types of comments are clearly unacceptable, and incidents where mistreatment has occurred must be investigated thoroughly and independently if necessary.

If any such comments were made by serving prison officers, they bring into question their fitness to carry out their duties. Officers working for the Irish Prison Service (IPS) must not engage in conduct or behave in a manner that could be discriminatory or undermine public confidence in the Irish Prison Service amongst any community. There is no doubt that posting such inappropriate and offensive material on social media is inappropriate in any public service, not least the prison service where people are at high risk of mistreatment and rights violation.

While IPRT notes the reported action by the IPS to have the Facebook group removed, it is clear that further investigation is needed, and appropriate action must be taken. In particular, and having regard to the organisation’s section 42 duty to eliminate discrimination and promote equality, the IPS must investigate without delay whether any of the posts containing offensive and racist language were posted by serving prison officers. If so, it is clear that disciplinary action may be required.

Racism or prejudice should not, and cannot, be tolerated in any prison system, and any evidence that staff have espoused such derogatory views about members of minority ethnic communities must receive a robust response from the IPS."

In its most recent report on Ireland, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) found that the vast majority of prison staff treated prisoners correctly but a small number of prison officers engaged in verbal abuse of prisoners, including use of racist language - see here (para. 33)

Previous research by IPRT identified discrimination against Travellers in the prison system, including offensive language - see here (p. 17) 

Notes:

  • IPRT was responding to an article in The Irish Times today (24th February 2021) ‘Prison Service attempts to get staff Facebook group removed over racist posts: Recent posts by prison officers mocked black people and Travellers’ available here: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/prison-service-attempts-to-get-staff-facebook-group-removed-over-racist-posts-1.4493095 
  • Rule 85(4) of Prison Rules 2007, which talks about the duties of prison officers, says “A prison officer shall, at all times (whether or not on duty) behave in an orderly and disciplined manner and shall not engage in conduct, or behave in a manner that would cause embarrassment to, or discredit the prison service.”
  • Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 sets out the public sector equality duty to eliminate discrimination and promote equality.
  • In 2021, IPRT is undertaking a research on race and the penal system in Ireland, funded through a grant of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

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

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