235. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the protocol in regard to prisoners on suicide watch; the frequency with which they are checked; and the possessions they are permitted to keep in their cell and so on. [27410/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I am advised by my officials in the Irish Prison Service that strategies and plans are in place in all institutions for the prevention of suicide and self-harm. Special arrangements are in place for prisoners who have been identified as being at risk, whereby they are placed on special observation and checked every 15 minutes.
All prisoners on committal to prison receive a comprehensive health assessment which includes a risk assessment for mental health issues. Management interventions are in place to ensure the prisoner’s safety, including recommendations on accommodation within the prison, observation levels to be conducted on the prisoner, and any other specific measures that may be appropriate. In such cases, further assessments may be undertaken by the National Forensic Mental Health Service, and through a multi-agency approach to managing the prisoner’s needs. Where appropriate, prisoners are kept under review by both the local healthcare team and the in-reach mental health specialists, and are reviewed at a weekly multi-agency meeting. Prison Officers also receive training in mental health awareness.
There are multi-disciplinary Suicide and Harm Prevention Groups in each prison that review, report and make recommendations on instances of self-harm and death in the prisoner population. These local groups meet on a quarterly basis or as needs dictate.
At national level, a Steering Group on Suicide and Harm Prevention in the Prisoner Population, chaired by the Director General, meets four times a year. The terms of reference of the Group include the promotion of best practice in preventing and, where necessary, responding to self-harm and death in the prisoner population.
The Samaritans’ Prison Listener Scheme is also available to prisoners. This scheme involves the training of selected prisoners to offer emotional support to other prisoners. The Samaritans’ volunteers regularly deliver training to support prison listeners and to liaise with prison officers on the management and support of the programme. Counselling is also available to prisoners and staff who are affected by suicide.
I can advise the Deputy that a prison Governor may require a prisoner’s clothing, including underwear, to be removed before the prisoner is accommodated in a Safety Observation Cell where the Governor considers that items or parts on the prisoner’s clothing may be used by the prisoner to harm themselves, or others, or to cause significant damage to property. No prisoner is left without suitable clothing. Prisoners who, for the prevention in so far as possible of incidents of self harm, have had their clothing removed are provided with appropriate clothing in the interests of his or her safety and dignity.