11th June 2021
Serious deficiencies in the current prison complaints system and quarantine conditions that amount to solitary confinement, including no access to showers for 14 days in some prisons, are among the critical issues raised by the prisons inspectorate in its 2020 annual report. To guarantee the protection of human rights across the prison estate as the Covid-19 response continues, the Minister and Department of Justice must prioritise and resource external scrutiny of prisons, through monitoring, inspection and proper complaints mechanisms.
This is according to the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), responding to the publication of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons Annual Report 2020 by Minister of State at the Department of Justice this afternoon (11.06.2021). The Annual Report details a number of significant concerns about the current operation of the prison complaints system and repeats the view, similarly expressed in several previous reports, that this system is “unfit for purpose”.
Responding to the Inspectorate’s views, IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide stated:
“A well-functioning and effective complaints investigation process has never been more important than during the past year, when external oversight of prisons has been significantly curtailed as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. With fewer external eyes on prison landings, the potential for ill treatment is increased. Reports that the pandemic has adversely impacted the investigation of prisoner complaints are therefore particularly alarming.”
The Inspectorate identifies that, despite promises in 2019 and 2020 that a new prison complaints system would be implemented, this has still not happened. Ms Ní Chinnéide continued:
“IPRT welcomes Ministers Naughton’s acknowledgement of the delays to implementation of the new complaints system and her eagerness to see the system reformed. However, it is imperative that the final necessary steps are taken without any further delay and that adequate funding is allocated to the new prison complaints system. The Inspectorate’s finding that the current complaints system is “inadequate and unreliable” should be a matter of concern for us all, and this government must now take urgent action to rectify the situation.”
The lack of any published prison inspection or monitoring reports in Ireland during the first year of the pandemic has prevented proper public scrutiny of the treatment of men and women behind prison walls. Following the publication of the Annual Report today, IPRT is now calling for the publication of completed COVID-19 thematic inspection reports (including the report of a 3-day oversight visit to the Dóchas Centre) to be prioritised by the Minister for Justice, in order to address this gap in accountability and allow timely responses to any issues raised.
Commenting on the Inspectorate’s work during the pandemic, Ms Ní Chinnéide continued:
“IPRT welcomes the Inspectorate’s engagement including visits by the Chief Inspector to all prisons early on in the pandemic period and that access was facilitated throughout by the Irish Prison Service. This oversight by the Inspectorate gave precious reassurance to IPRT, community organisations, and families of people in prison at a worrying time.
“This report underscores the importance of a vital oversight structure during the pandemic. The Inspectorate makes clear that prisoners who were subjected to quarantine and isolation were held in solitary confinement, with some prisoners having no access to a shower for 14 days. IPRT echoes the view of the Inspectorate that some of the measures introduced in response to COVID-19 have ‘had a disproportionate impact on prisoners’.”
IPRT notes that wide vaccine roll-out has begun in Irish prisons this week. The Irish Prison Service confirmed to IPRT today (11.06.2021) that mass vaccination has commenced on a prison-wide basis and is expected to be completed in all 12 prisons within four weeks. Vaccination of the prison population must be met with the unwinding of harsh restrictions, as detailed in this Annual Report, and the resumption of access to education, workshops, therapeutic programmes, family visits, community supports, and other regimes which support reintegration, and ultimately public safety.
For all media enquires or to arrange interview with an IPRT spokesperson, contact Pamela: +353 (0) 86 043 3060
NOTE TO EDITORS
Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.