Prisons inspector warns complaints system is ‘unfit for purpose’ for third successive year

Prisons inspector warns complaints system is 'unfit for purpose' for third successive year

Patricia Gilheaney

Ireland’s prisons inspector has raised concerns about the delay in reforming the prisoner complaints system after warning it is “unfit for purpose” for the third successive year.

Prisons inspector Patricia Gilheaney, writing in her annual report for 2020, said: “An effective complaints system is an essential tool in the armoury of human rights protections. The introduction of an effective complaints system must be identified as a priority for action.”

A new prisoner complaints system was first promised by the end of 2019, and then by the end of 2020, but has yet to be introduced.

The report also raises concerns about the impact of Covid-19 on prisoners, noting that those in quarantine or isolation had “limited or no” out-of-cell time or meaningful human contact.

Some quarantine and/or isolation cells had no shower, meaning prisoners in quarantine in those prisons had no access to a shower for the duration of their quarantine – often up to 14 days. They were only provided with a sponge and a basin.

The report states: “While it is acknowledged that measures taken by the IPS, such as cocooning, quarantine and isolation were introduced to prevent transmission of the virus and to preserve life, it is the Inspectorate’s view that some measures had a disproportionate impact on prisoners.

“Those prisoners subjected to quarantine and isolation were held in solitary confinement, as they had less than two hours of daily out-of-cell time, with no access to education, work or training, and did not have meaningful human contact.

“Research has shown that solitary confinement can have a damaging effect on mental and social health. It is the view of the Inspectorate, in line with recommendations made by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), that any restriction in addition to that imposed by the Court requires additional justification.”

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), said the report “underscores the importance of a vital oversight structure during the pandemic”.

“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,” she added.

The government said the Irish Prison Service (IPS), the Department of Justice and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel are working closely together to finalise the statutory instrument which will give legal effect to the new prisoner complaints system.

Hildegarde Naughton, minister of state in the Department of Justice, said: “The Inspector has voiced her concerns in regards to the delay in reforming the prisoner complaints system.

“I too am eager to see this system reformed and, while I would note that work is progressing on a number of fronts, I also acknowledge that it has been subject to a number of delays.

“It is important that we get this new system right and I hope that progress can be made in order to move forward on this matter as soon as possible.”

Share icon
Share this article: