3rd October 2023
IPRT presented to the Joint Committee on Justice for Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Irish Prison Service Bill to discuss our submission to the Committee in relation to the Bill on Tuesday 3 October 2023 in a committee room at Leinster House.
IPRT's Executive Director, Saoirse Brady, and IPRT's Legal and Public Affairs Manager, Helen Kehoe, presented an overview of our submission and answered questions from politicians at the committee meeting.
IPRT Executive Director, Saoirse Brady.
"I thank the Committee for the invitation to speak today on this important piece of proposed legislation. Established in 1994, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland’s principal independent non-governmental organisation working for systemic penal reform and change. Our vision is a just, humane Ireland where prison is used as a last resort.
We urge the Committee to give this General Scheme its full attention to ensure that the final legislation is fit for purpose and the Irish Prison Service (IPS) maintains the highest standards in governance and accountability.
Accountability and oversight have a different significance in the ‘closed world’ of prisons, encompassing much more than the prevention of human rights violations behind closed doors. They involve ensuring the prison system meets its own mission to provide “safe and secure custody, dignity of care and rehabilitation to prisoners” and that it does everything it can to minimise the harmful effects of imprisonment on people so held.
We welcome the long overdue publication of the General Scheme but it must be prioritised and accompanied by a firm commitment to adequate investment in the proposed governance and audit structures of the IPS or there is an inherent risk that the new body will become a firefighting operation.
The statutory appointment of the Director General as the accounting officer for the IPS, at Head 34, is also welcome. However, we would ask the Committee to consider whether the proposed limitations on expressing opinions to Oireachtas Committees other than the Public Accounts Committee is appropriate or necessary.
While welcome that the Heads of Bill set out the IPS Board composition and membership, we would call into question the appointment by the Minister for Justice and would instead recommend that the legislation is crystal clear that appointments, in whole or in part, are to be made pursuant to a public competition managed by the Public Appointments Service.
IPRT is concerned that the statutory power of the Minister, as set out in Head 52, to redact in part or in full the publication of the IPS annual report seems particularly stringent. IPRT suggests that the Committee consider the need for such a statutory provision, particularly given the importance of protecting the independence of the IPS and that the same does not apply to other statutory bodies.
Recently, the Office of the Inspector of Prisons has increased its activity and output. This is welcome but creating an effective and accountable system requires not only robust independent oversight, but also the shaping of a prison culture that respects complaints, acts swiftly to address any wrongdoings, and harnesses data and information to drive progress. Accountability is not a singular entity, one office, or one practice.
Finally, the notable omission around prison culture and its importance cannot be overstated. It encompasses working relationships between staff and management, and between staff and prisoners. Poor standards or poor service provision or treatment in day-to-day life can create a pervasive culture whereby people in prison tolerate poor conditions rather than challenge them to realise their rights. This is particularly relevant considering the ongoing review of the 2007 Prison Rules by the Department of Justice as there is currently no adequate complaints system that offers an effective remedy for people in prison. We hope that the review will be completed shortly. A robust and effective complaints system must have conditions in place which support it, including the promotion of a positive culture so that staff and prisoners can have confidence in the system to support better management overall.
Our submission details specific comments on a number of key Heads of the General Scheme and we will be happy to answer any questions on them."
The recording of IPRT's presentation to the Joint Committee on Justice for Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Irish Prison Service Bill including the Q&A is available on our YouTube here.
IPRT's submission to the Joint Committee on Justice on the General Scheme of the Irish Prison Service Bill is available here.
 Irish Prison Service, Mission and Values https://www.irishprisons.ie/about-us/mission-and-values/