Government would not pay to upgrade 'not fit for purpose' prisoner complaints system in Portlaoise and other jails

'Poor adherence to the law'

Government would not pay to upgrade 'not fit for purpose' prisoner complaints system in Portlaoise and other jails

Portlaoise Prison

The Government refused a request from the Irish Prison Service (IPS) to foot the bill for external investigation of serious complaints made by prisoners according to a report which finds the the system is not fit for purpose.

This finding is contained is the 10th Annual Report of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons for 2020 which also outlines shortcomings with the system for investigating incidents highlighted reported by inmates.

Signed off by Patricia Gilheaney, Inspector of Prisons, in March 2021, drew attention to the shortcomings. She said staff, prisoners and the public must have a fair system.

"The poor adherence by the IPS to the law in relation to prisoner complaints is concerning. Noncompliance by the IPS render the present operation of the existing system inadequate and unreliable.

"It is critically important that prisoners, prison staff and the public can have confidence that there exists a robust and fair prisoner complaints system in operation. Regrettably, this is not the case, and it is the Inspectorate’s view, as expressed in a number of previous reports, that the current Prison Complaints system is not fit for purpose," found the report.

The Inspector highlighted unsuccessful efforts made by the Prison Service to address the matter.

"In February 2021, during the course of preparing this report, the IPS informed the Inspectorate that there were currently 13 active investigators available for serious complaints, some of which have limited the prisons or geographical area in which they will serve.

"The IPS further advised that in 2020 an application was submitted to the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) to run a tender for the recruitment of investigation companies to carry out investigations of serious complaints under Prison Rule 57B.

"A submission for funding of €400k to cover the costs to carry out the investigations was submitted to the Department of Justice under the 2021 Estimates Process, however, this was not approved. The IPS then commenced engagement with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) in 2020 and proposed to increase the daily rate paid to those who investigate complaints under Prison Rule 57B, as such rates are set by DPER.

"In January 2021, the IPS was informed that DPER was not in a position to revise the rates at present due to the emerging budgetary position. Therefore, the IPS has informed us that it will be extremely challenging to ensure external investigators are assigned and that investigation into serious complaints are carried out in out in a timely manner in 2021," said the report.

The Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Hildegarde Naughton TD, has published the report. A statement from the Justice Department acknowledged that the Inspector is critical of the current Prisoner Complaints System adding that work is continuing to complete the necessary actions to introduce the new Complaints System which was delayed, in part, due to the impact of the pandemic. 

It said that the IPS, the Department of Justice and the Office of the Parliamentary Council are working closely together to finalise the Statutory Instrument which will give legal effect to the new Prisoner Complaints System.

“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,” said Minister Naughton.

A copy of the report is available on the Department of Justice website here: Office of the Inspector of Prisons Annual Report 2020

 

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