The Office of the Inspector of Prisons is a statutory, independent office and the remit of the Inspector is set out in Part 5 of the Prisons Act 2007.
The Inspector of Prisons shall submit to the Minister for Justice and Equality a report on the performance of the Inspector’s functions during the previous year and on such other related matters as the Minister may direct from time to time.
A report under this section shall, in respect of each prison inspected during the year in question, deal with, in particular: -
- its general management, including the level of its effectiveness and efficiency,
- the conditions and general health and welfare of prisoners detained there,
- the general conduct and effectiveness of persons working there,
- compliance with national and international standards including in particular the prison rules,
- programmes and other facilities available and the extent to which prisoners participate in them,
- security, and discipline.
Under Section 31 of the Prisons Act 2007 the Inspector of Prisons is obliged to carry out regular inspections of prisons and for this purpose may:-
(a) at any time enter any prison or any part of a prison,
(b) request and obtain from the Governor a copy of any books, records, other documents or extracts from such documents, and,
(c) in the course of an inspection or arising out of an inspection bring any issues of concern to the notice of the governor of the prison concerned, the Director General of the Irish Prison Service or the Minister as the Inspector considers appropriate.
The Inspector may, and shall if so requested by the Minister, investigate any matter arising out of the management or operation of a prison and shall submit to the Minister a report on any such investigation.
The Office of the Inspector of Prisons is responsible for inspecting the following 12 Prisons: -
- Arbour Hill Prison – is a closed, medium security prison for males aged 18 years and over. Its prisoner profile is largely made up of long term sentenced prisoners.
- Castlerea Prison – is a closed, medium security prison for males aged 18 years and over. It is the committal prison for remand and sentenced prisoners in Connaught and also takes committals from counties Cavan, Donegal and Longford.
- Cloverhill Prison – is a closed, medium security prison for males aged 18 years and over which primarily caters for remand prisoners committed from the Leinster area.
- Cork Prisons – is a closed, medium security prison for males aged 18 years and over. It is the committal prison for counties Cork, Kerry and Waterford.
- Dóchas Centre – is a closed, medium security prison for females aged 18 years and over. It is the committal prison for females committed on remand or sentenced from all Courts outside the Munster area.
- Limerick Prison – is a closed, medium security prison for males and females aged 18 years and over. It is the committal prison for males for counties Clare, Limerick and Tipperary and for females from all six Munster counties.
- Loughan House – is an open, low security prison for males aged 18 years and over who are regarded as requiring lower levels of security.
- Midlands Prison – is a closed, medium security prison for males aged 18 years and over. It is the committal prison for counties Carlow, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly and Westmeath.
- Mountjoy Prison – is a closed, medium security prison for males aged 18 years and over. It is the main committal prison for Dublin city.
- Portlaoise Prison – a closed, high security prison for males aged 18 years and over. It is the committal prison for those sent to custody from the Special Criminal Court and prisoners accommodated here include those linked with subversive crime.
- Shelton Abbey – is an open, low security prison for males aged 19 years and over who are regarded as requiring lower levels of security.
- Wheatfield Prisons – is a closed, medium security place of detention for males aged 17 and over.
Investigation of deaths in Custody by the Inspector of Prisons
The Office of the Inspector of Prisons investigates deaths in custody (either in custody or on temporary release) since 1 January 2012. These investigations are not and do not purport to answer all questions surrounding a death. The Inspector of Prisons’ investigations are part of a three pronged process – the other elements being the investigation by An Garda Síochána and the investigation and Inquest by the Coroner.
The combination of a Garda Investigation, the Coroner’s Investigation and Inquest together with the Inspector of Prisons investigation and subsequent report means that this Country is in compliance with its national and international obligations and meets the strict criteria laid down by the European Court of Human Rights when interpreting the procedural requirement of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
On 21 December 2010 the late Inspector of Prisons presented a report to the then Minister for Justice and Law Reform titled “Guidance on Best Practice relating to the Investigation of Deaths in Prison Custody” which was published on 1 April 2011.This Report gave an overview of the then investigation procedures in place following a death in custody in the Irish Prison Service. It further set out the guidance on best practice for investigating deaths in custody and made a number of conclusions and recommendation.
On 19April 2012 the then Minister announced the introduction of the “independent investigation of all prisoner deaths” and stated that the death of any prisoner in the custody of the Irish Prison Service shall be subject to an independent investigation by the Inspector of Prisons. The Minister stated “I welcome this important development. Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. There can be no question left unanswered when a person in State custody dies. The independence and track record of the Inspector speaks for itself and I am confident that the Irish Prison Service and other relevant public sector agencies will cooperate with and indeed welcome the Inspector’s involvement in this area”.
On 11 June 2014 the late Inspector presented another report title “Report by Judge Michael Reilly, Inspector of Prisons on his Investigations into Deaths of Prisoners in Custody or on Temporary Release for the period 1 January 2012 to 11 June 2014”. This report was published by the Minister on 12 September 2014. This report set out why an independent investigation of deaths of prisoners is important and outlined the Inspector’s investigation process and his modus operandi. The report further outlined the Inspector’s main findings both positive and adverse.
Prisoner Complaints Procedure
On 10 September 2010 the late Inspector presented his Report “Guidance on Best Practice relating to Prisoners’ Complaints and Prison Discipline” to the then Minister for Justice and Equality. The Report outlined the deficiencies he had encountered in the Prisoner Complaints Procedure. In his report he set out the requirements which were necessary for a robust prisoners’ complaints model by reference to, inter alia, this country’s international obligations as laid down in various Treaties and Instruments.
On 14 January 2013 the Prison Rules (Amendment) 2013 (S.I. 11/2013) came into operation. This legislation set out the guidelines for the new Irish Prison Service Prisoner Complaints Procedure.
On 6 April 2016 the Inspector presented his Report “Review, Evaluation and Analysis of the Operation of the present Irish Prison Service Prisoner Complaints Procedure” to the Minister for Justice and Equality. This Report was published on 8 June 2016. It was the first review, evaluation and analysis of the operation of the present Irish Prison Service Complaints Procedure since its formal introduction in June 2014. This Report highlighted significant deficiencies relating to the operation of the prisoner complaints procedure. The Report contained a number of recommendations. The Irish Prison Service is currently considering the implementation of these recommendations.
The Office of the Inspector of Prisons continues to have oversight of the Prisoner Complaints Procedure.
Rule 44 of the Irish Prison Rules 2007
Rule 44 of the Irish Prison Rules 2007 allows a Prisoner to write to the Inspector of Prisons with any matter of concern. The Inspectorate receives a large number of letters from prisoner relating to a number of issues/concerns. All these letters are responded to by the Inspectorate.