Unannounced inspections of Portlaoise's prisons flagged in shake-up of jail inspection regime

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

Email:

news@leinsterexpress.ie

portlaoise

Portlaoise Prison

A new plan to allow for two-week unannounced inspections and follow up action plans of prisons is part of a new framework to revamp the system whereby prisons in Laois and other parts of Ireland are independently monitored.

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Helen McEntee, has today (September 15) welcomed the publication of the Inspection Framework for Prisons in Ireland by the Inspector of Prions, Ms Patricia Gilheaney. 

The Department said the Inspection Framework sets out how the Inspectorate will conduct inspections of prisons in Ireland. It is informed by the statutory underpinning of the Inspector in legislation, national legislation relating to prisons and prisoners’ rights, and international obligations owing to prisoners. 

The Framework says that from 2020 onwards, and subject to adequate Inspectorate resources, each prisons in Ireland will be subject to a full inspection at a minimum every five years with an ambition to inspect prisons every two to three years. It says these will typically be unannounced.

The framework says a significant amount of preparatory work will take place before a general inspection which will last two weeks depending on the size of the jail.

A small team of perhaps two inspectors will engage with senior staff and conduct surveys among both prisoners
and staff alongside other work during week one.

During the second week, a larger team of inspectors. The plan is to carry out interviews with prisoners and staff. In particular, inspectors will want to speak to life sentence prisoners, remand prisoners, sex offenders, those on restricted regimes.

Conversations with staff will be carried out to "gain a better understanding of the working life experienced by staff".

Other items to be included in the second week of the inspection include observations and assessment and documentation reviews.

Issues found that need prompt action will be raised with the Governor to enable 'corrective' measures to be taken rather than waiting for the close-out meeting which completes the inspection process.

The framework says evidence-based Inspection Reports will not identify solutions but there will be recommendations that the IPS will be requested to address by providing a timebound Action Plan.

Assessments in the reports will relate to performance in each of the five focus areas, with ratings of “Very Good”, “Good”, “Fair” or “Poor”.

The final Inspection Report will be published by the Minister for Justice and the Inspectorate. 

All prisons that have been the subject of inspection will be requested to submit an action plan to the Inspectorate within one month of receipt of the draft report which will comprise the response of the prison to the recommendations that have been made, and what action, if any, the prison intends to take as a consequence of each recommendation.

The Inspectorate says it will develop a comprehensive template to ensure that the IPS understands and complies with the required action points. 

Apart from the general inspections, the Inspectorate says follow-up and/or Functional/Thematic Inspections will be carried out in the intervening period. Also typically unannounced, inspection issues can include: Solitary confinement, prisoner safety, prisoner restraint, staff wellbeing, human resources, finance, governance, education, healthcare.

Announced follow up visits may take place to assess progress against the Action Plan, which the Irish Prison Service, will have produced to address the recommendations in the original Inspection Report.

Remand prisons may be inspected on a more regular basis, at least once every two years. 

Speaking at the launch, Minister McEntee said: “I know the Inspectorate is committed to undertaking a comprehensive and systemic programme of inspections of Ireland’s prisons - in an independent, transparent manner with a focus on improvement and prevention and I very much welcome and support this work.  A key requirement of this commitment is the development of an Inspection Framework, and – with this in mind - I am delighted to launch this Framework today," she said.

She added that the Inspector will continue to play a vital role in providing valuable external scrutiny of Prisons in Ireland, a role now underpinned by this best-practice Framework.

The Office of the Inspector of Prisons is a statutory but independent body, set up under the Prisons Act 2007. It carries out regular inspections of all prisons in Ireland and to present a report on each institution inspected to the Minister for Justice and Equality.