13 Aug 2022

Prison inspection plan to 'safeguard prisoners' says penal reform trust

Midlands Prison Portlaoise.

Secure unit at the Midlands Prison in Portlaoise for violent prisoner

A new inspection regime of jails in Portlaoise and elsewhere will improve accountability in Ireland’s prison system and safeguard prisoners but must be backed by legislation and resources, according to the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT).

The organisation welcomed the launch of ‘Inspection Framework for Prisons in Ireland’ by the Minister for Justice Ms Helen McEntee TD this week.

The Framework sets out how the Office of the Inspector of Prisons will conduct inspections of prisons in Ireland.

The IPRT says there have been no published inspection reports on a closed prison in Ireland since 2014 which it said undermines public scrutiny and the State’s accountability for how it treats people behind prison walls.

The trust said there is a need for increased resourcing of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons, and for laws that allow the Inspector of Prisons to publish reports directly and not through the Minister for Justice.

Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide is the IPRT Executive. 

“Independent inspections play a critical role in preventing torture and ill-treatment in prisons and encouraging good practice. This rights-led Framework will play an important role in improving accountability in Ireland’s prison system and safeguarding the rights of thousands of men and women each year.

“It is essential that a programme of prison inspections is now commenced. There have been no published inspection reports for any closed prison in Ireland since 2014, and half of Ireland’s prisons have not been subject to a published inspection in twelve years or more. This is unacceptable by any measure.

“There are two actions that should be taken now. Government must demonstrate that it is serious about preventing torture and ill-treatment in Ireland through meeting its commitment to ratify the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture by end 2021, and the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill needs to be progressed and the independence of the Inspectorate of Prisons strengthened in law and resources.

“While the Irish Prison Service is to be commended for keeping the people in its custody largely free from COVID-19, and for introducing measures to mitigate against harsh restrictions, we simply cannot assess whether minimum human rights standards have been met in the absence of independent inspection reports,” she said.

The Trust said it is important now that the Office of the Inspector of Prisons is fully resourced both short- and long-term so that the Office can deliver on a programme of robust prison inspections under the new Framework, while also delivering on other functions within the Office’s remit, including the prompt publication of deaths in custody reports and undertaking other relevant thematic reviews, where appropriate.

The IPRT campaigns for the rights of everyone in prison and the reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort. 

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