The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr Alan Shatter TD, today published a report by the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, of an inspection of St Patrick’s Institution which was presented to the Minister on 27 June, 2012.
The report raises serious issues and major concerns relating to St Patrick’s Institution. In a wide ranging and comprehensive report, the Inspector has reported that a combination of, inter alia, weak management, the culture in the prison, the inattention to human rights norms, prisoners on protection and prevalence of drugs means that St Patrick’s has not lived up to the mission statement of the Irish Prison Service. He concluded that there has been a culture in St Patrick’s which resulted in the human rights of some prisoners (children and young adults) being either ignored or violated.
Major concerns have been raised in relation to aspects of prison healthcare, education, the use of special cells for safety and close supervision, inadequate record keeping, the use of control and restraint techniques contrary to established guidelines and international best practice. He describes the forcible removing of prisoner’s clothing as degrading and a form of punishment.
The Inspector has also expressed concern that investigations carried out in the majority of cases into prisoner complaints including alleged assaults or serious inappropriate actions by prison officers, were flawed, incomplete, and could not be said to accord with best practice. He reports that prisoners were actively discouraged from making complaints, efforts were made to get them to withdraw such complaints, and prisoners felt that to support a complaint as a witness would be to their disadvantage in prison.
The Inspector expresses concern at the manner in which family visits were prohibited during the period under review as a disciplinary measure.
The Inspector is highly critical of some prison staff, their interaction with prisoners, and identifies a culture of bullying involving a minority of prison officers. He is also satisfied that there is bullying and intimidation of prison officers and staff by a small minority of other prison officers, and mentions the real potential to corrupt good prison officers.
Speaking on the publication of this report, Minister Shatter said "This report is quite shocking and I am grateful to the Inspector for bringing these matters to light. Neither I nor the Government will tolerate this type of abuse. I have instructed the Director General of the Irish Prison Service to ensure that everything possible is done to address these issues within the timeframes set by the Inspector if not before then".
A new Governor has been appointed along with two new Assistant Governors. A further senior management position will be filled by mid October.
Improved training for prison officers in St Patrick’s is to be introduced as a matter of urgency. New guidelines for the imposition of disciplinary sanctions have been introduced, and new standard operating procedures for safety observation and close supervision cells introduced are in all prisons since 5 June, 2012. New arrangements were also introduced in St Patrick’s in June to provide that a member of the medical team be present (if practicable) during all periods when control and restraint is used.
Over 60% of relevant staff have received refresher training in control and restraint techniques to date. The remaining staff will commence refresher training at the beginning of the next quarter in November and it is envisaged that all staff will have received necessary training by the end of November. In relation to supervisors’ refresher training, all Assistant Chief Officers’ and supervising officers have been refreshed in this module. The role of the supervisor during a C&R operation is key to best practice being implemented.
The Irish Prison Service has also undertaken to ensure that complaint procedures are reviewed, prison healthcare procedures are put in place, and records are maintained on the removal and relocation of prisoners.
A new dedicated committal unit is in operation. The Irish Prison Service is also in the process of establishing a new vulnerable persons unit. Additional security arrangements have been introduced to minimise drugs and contraband entering the prison. These include an increased Garda presence on the canal, a new policy to clear contraband landing on the net, standardised sanctions on disciplinary reports for offences in relation to contraband, and increased intelligence led searching in the prison. There is also increased monitoring of prisoners’ phone calls and appropriate sanction when abuse is discovered, ongoing meetings with the OSG (Operational Support Group) in relation to this issue, and the appointment of a Chief Officer with particular responsibility for security on the Campus.
In addition, a business case for the installation of a finer mesh net in the exercise yards is currently being considered though there are some engineering and design issues to be resolved. Educational facilities will be improved along with the provision of an incentivised regimes programme in the prison. Physical conditions and facilities generally will also be improved.
One of the Government’s priorities is to remove 17 year old offenders completely from the adult prison system.
Minister Shatter said "Like the Inspector, I acknowledge the difficulty in changing a culture. However, change it must and change it will. This Government has already taken steps to improve conditions for children in detention and is committed to addressing the issues. As announced some time ago by my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Ms Frances Fitzgerald TD, the practice of sending 16 year old boys to St Patrick’s ceased on 1st May, 2012. From that date, all newly remanded or sentenced 16 year olds have been detained in the children detention facilities in Oberstown, Lusk, Co Dublin. In addition, the remit of the Ombudsman for Children was extended in July of this year to include the examination of complaints from children detained in St Patrick’s Institution.
The Minister added "The detention of children in St. Patrick’s Institution will end with the provision of more appropriate accommodation and regimes in the new detention facility at Oberstown by mid-2014. In addition, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, who has legal responsibility for the children detention schools, has agreed to examine the feasibility of accommodating some categories of 17 year old boys in Oberstown on a phased basis before that date. It should be noted that I intend to introduce primary legislation for the purpose of closing St. Patrick’s Institution as a detention centre for offenders aged 21 and under."
"As a further interim measure, I welcome the arrangements being made by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs for a number of care staff from the Children Detention Schools to work on placement in St Patrick’s Institution alongside Prison Staff. It is intended that this will take place within the next two months.
The Minister also said "I announced on 8 August 2012 that new robust procedures are to be introduced to investigate complaints by prisoners. The Inspector of Prisons submitted a new complaints model and I have instructed the Director General of the Irish Prison Service that as an immediate priority he is to introduce procedures for dealing with the most serious of complaints which the Inspector refers to as Category "A" complaints alleging serious ill treatment, use of excessive force, racial discrimination, intimidation or threats. In this context, the Irish Prison Service have recruited a panel of 22 external investigators who will undergo appropriate training on 22 – 25 October, 2012, and the new procedures will go live with effect from 1 November, 2012.
The Inspector’s report and the Irish Prison Service Action Plan for implementing his recommendations are available on the Department’s website at www.justice.ie
Publication of Visiting Committee Reports
Minister Shatter also published the reports of the Dóchas Centre, Midlands, Limerick, Shelton Abbey, Training Unit, Castlerea, Loughan House and Portlaoise Prisons.
Welcoming the publication of the reports, the Minister said "I am pleased to note the Committees' commendation of the commitment of prison staff and their professional approach despite having to operate with reduced numbers in the current economic climate. I was also pleased to note the commendation generally on food standards in the Midlands Prison, Limerick Prison, Shelton Abbey and Training Unit.
The Minister acknowledged the concerns raised by the Committees in relation to conditions generally, overcrowding, and health services to prisoners. Noting the Committee’s comments on the abuse of drugs in Limerick Prison, the Minister said that "It is intended that a Drug Free Unit will be established in Limerick Prison by the end of 2012. This is contingent on the opening of the new block in the Midlands which will facilitate some of the population from Limerick thereby freeing up a dedicated space for such a Unit. The Governor is committed to acting on this once space is available".
The Minister recently announced that he has requested the Irish Prison Service to proceed with the preparation of plans for a major redevelopment at Limerick prison to include the replacement of the A &B Wings. Again, the Minister said "This will provide a new modern 100 cell accommodation block with in cell sanitation, a dedicated committal unit and a high support unit, ancillary support services, additional recreational areas and a new kitchen facility with work training facilities. These plans together with plans for the replacement of Cork prison and the significant work undertaken in Mountjoy prison in relation to the improvement of physical conditions and the provision of in-cell sanitation is yet more evidence of my commitment to radically improve the prison estate."
In relation to healthcare services, the Minister stated that "The objective of the Prison Service is to provide equivalence of care in relation to the provision of healthcare services comparable to that available to medical card holders in the community".
The Dóchas Centre Visiting Committee raised concerns regarding the welfare of those prisoners suffering from mental health issues. The Irish Prison Service has advised the Minister that female prisoners have access to a broad range of excellent support services for mental health problems. However, the Minister pointed out that "this does not deflect from the view that a prison is not the ideal environment for the treatment of prisoners with mental health problems".
The Committees also highlight the issue of difficulties experienced by families in trying to arrange visits. The Minister stated that "A pilot online booked visits system, which allows family members to book visits to prisoners in Castlerea and Cloverhill prisons via the Irish Prison Service website is currently ongoing. If this pilot proves successful the intention is to roll out this facility to all prisons and this may reduce the pressure on the telephone bookings".
The Minister said "I remain committed to ensuring that the range of options available to the judiciary is broad and includes a modern and upgraded prison system. The problem of prison overcrowding remains a challenging issue which unfortunately cannot be resolved overnight. However progress is being made. There are 300 new prison places in the Midlands Prison which will be operational by the end of the year. I am continuing to pursue alternatives to custody where they are appropriate and to address the issue of the lack of in cell sanitation in prisons.
The reports are also available on the Department's website www.justice.ie
16 October, 2012