Limerick law students design database to monitor prison deaths

Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly
Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly

A database designed by a group of law students at University of Limerick (UL) will be an important resource for the State, according to the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly.

A report by UL researchers recommended that the Irish Prison Service or Inspector of Prisons produce a database to record information regarding deaths in prison custody. The data would be used to inform public policy and ultimately reduce the number of people dying in prison.

It found a database “would provide transparency within the prison system regarding deaths in prison custody, allowing for comprehensive information gathering. It would also encourage evidence-based policy with an aim to reduce the number of prisoners dying in prison custody.”

Professor Shane Kilcommins of UL School of Law explained: “The students conducted an extensive literature review on deaths in custody and designed a deaths-in-custody database based on international best practice. This database will be an important resource informing stakeholders and it is hoped, public policy.”

He added: “The report is created out of the absence of reliable, comprehensive information on deaths in custody within this jurisdiction.”

Ten fourth-year law students participated in the research supported by Professor Kilcommins and Dr Eimear Spain.

In 2014, Judge Reilly, an Adjunct Professor of Law at UL, identified the potential benefits of such a database. However, given the constraints within his own office, he was not in a position to conduct research.

Judge Reilly said: “The absence of reliable, comprehensive information on deaths in custody within this jurisdiction has long struck me as lamentable. This project emerged from a conversation between Professor Kilcommins and me in 2014 in which we discussed my desire to rectify the information deficit in this regard.”

At the launch of the report last Thursday, Judge Reilly praised the work and thanked the researchers: Roisin Cahill; Blathnaid Christian O’Shea; Maire Ciepierski; Caoilinn Doran; Cillian Flavin; Niall Foley; Michelle Kavanagh; Luke Mulcahy; Rachel O’Carroll; and Stephen Strauss Walsh.

The report will be presented to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.