Midlands prisoners should not share cells until assessed, report warns

Judge Michael Reilly
Judge Michael Reilly

Inmates at an Irish prison should not be made to share cells unless a comprehensive assessment finds that they would be suitable cellmates, a report by prisons inspector Judge Michael Reilly recommends.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald yesterday published Judge Reilly’s report into the death of a 61-year old inmate who was sharing a cell with a 31-year old at Midlands Prison in Portlaoise.

The report criticises the decision to place “a frail, vulnerable man” serving concurrent sentences for indecent and sexual assault, theft, larceny and false accounting in a cell with a prisoner with a history of violence and infractions of prison discipline.

The report points out that the deceased was an asthmatic and his cellmate was a chain smoker who brewed “hooch” in his cell and regularly took visitors.

No prosecution has been brought forward in respect to the death, which the state pathologist said was caused by “cardiac arrest precipitated by blunt force trauma to the head and trunk”.

Judge Reilly wrote that the Irish Prison Service and prison governors “must be aware of their legal obligations to protect the health of prisoners”.

He added: “A prisoner who objects to sharing a cell with a prisoner who smokes should never have to share a cell with such a prisoner.”

The report recommends that elderly prisoners should be accommodated in single cells and also calls on the Irish Prison Service to establish procedures to ensure best practice in preserving potential crime scenes.

Ms Fitzgerald said: “I have read the Report with great interest and would like to thank the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly for his work in this regard.

“The death of any person in State custody must be thoroughly examined and I expect that the Irish Prison Service and indeed all the statutory agencies involved, will work hard to address the findings and recommendations in the Inspector’s reports.”

She added: “The Irish Prison Service has taken steps to address the Inspector’s concerns and a cell share risk assessment pilot has commenced in Midlands prison. Investigation procedures following all deaths in custody have been enhanced.”

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