Portlaoise's prisons set for new inspection process as report finds the existing system not fit for purpose

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

prison

Portlaosie Prison

Prison staff and management are set to face beefed up scrutiny in the form of the first full inspection of jails in Portlaoise and elsewhere by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons.

The first full inspection in a revamped process is set to take place this year some 12 months later than had been hoped by the Inspector of Prisons, Patricia Gilheaney.

In her first annual report published just before Christmas, the Inspector, Ms Gilheaney said the process is set to start following a review of the inspection regime which found that it is not fit for purpose.

The Inspector sets out the findings of the review by PA Consulting Services in her annual report for 2018. While she said the report highlighted the hard work and dedication of the Inspector's Office, it found that the office is not fulfilling its role.

Ms Gilheaney sets out the findings as follows.

- Only three prisons have been formally inspected in the last five years.

- Half of the prison estate has not been formally inspected since the Office of the Inspector of Prisons was set up 10 years ago.

- There have been multiple visits but a lack of formal inspection reports means necessary openness, transparency and rigour are not evidenced.

- Insufficient funding and resources to investigate anything above deaths in custody.

“The current inspection and investigation regime withing the existing Office of Inspector of Prisons is not fit for purpose,” said Ms Gilheaney in her summary of the independent review.

The inspector outlined the ambition to carry out a significant amount of work to complete its first inspection in 2019 under a new inspection regime with the first report to be published early this year. However, she also admitted that this target had to be pushed out.

“There is slippage in terms of original timeframes and the first full inspection of a prison under the new inspection regime is likely to occur in 2020. This first full inspection will be announced and conducted in a manner that supports collaborative learning with the Irish Prison Service.

“After an initial inspection, all other prisons should be aware of how the new inspection regime will operate. This first inspection will be critical in setting both a new quality standard and a new tone in the work of the renewed Prison inspectorate,” said Ms Gilheaney.

The independent review of shortcomings in the inspection process was sent to Minister for Justice and Laois TD Charlie Flanagan in December 2018.

Following her own appointment in 2018, Ms Gilheaney visited all Irish Prison Service places of detention to familiarise herself with the service.

She identified areas of concern related to protection, solitary confinement, restricted regimes, overcrowding, broken windows, contraband, prisoner health, rehabilitation, education and training, equity and women prisoners and chaplaincy.