Minister McEntee publishes the Office of the Inspector of Prisons Annual Report 2021
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Minister of Justice Helen McEntee has today published the Office of the Inspector of Prisons Annual Report for 2021. 2021 was the first year in which prison inspections were carried out in accordance with the new 'Inspection Framework for Prisons in Ireland', published by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons in 2020.
In response to the pandemic, and the need to monitor the situation within prisons for prisoners and staff, the Inspector suspended her general inspection programme in 2021 and embarked on a COVID-19 focused inspection schedule, designed to provide a human rights-based assessment of the response of the Prison Service to the pandemic. All 12 prisons were inspected in 2021.
Welcoming the report, Minister McEntee said:
"The Inspector’s Annual Report for 2021 sets out the excellent work which was achieved during the year in maintaining necessary oversight of Ireland’s prisons.
"The COVID-19 pandemic affected plans for in-depth inspections of individual prisons. Instead the Inspector carried out an overall inspection across all prisons of the Prison Service’s response to the pandemic. The Inspector of Prisons’ reports of these inspections recognised the good work done by the Prison Service during the pandemic and pointed to ways the response could be improved.
"The Prison Service’s constructive engagement with these issues and the resulting adaptation of their approach to COVID-19 is evidence of the benefit of strong independent oversight and its value to our prisons."
The Inspector embarked on an inspection of all prisons in Ireland in 2021. These inspections, whilst short in duration due to the situation with COVID-19, examined the treatment of prisoners and conditions in prisons across the Framework focus areas which are:
The Inspectorate also developed a COVID-19 staff survey to assess the experience of prison staff working in prisons in 2021, and engaged in ongoing discussion with prison management and the Prison Service to provide robust inspections of all prisons in Ireland. The inspection reports, and the COVID-19 Staff Survey report, have all been published and can be found on the websites of the Department of Justice and the Inspector of Prisons.
Another key aspect of the Inspector of Prisons role is the carrying out of independent investigations, at the Minister’s request, into all deaths in custody. In relation to Death in Custody investigations, the Office of the Inspector of Prisons submitted 18 reports to the Minister in 2021 reducing its investigation backlog by 66.7%.
The Minister continued:
"Oversight and evaluation are very important elements in developing and improving our penal system and the work of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons is an essential aspect of monitoring the situation in our prisons. Their work is a key component in identifying ways we can do things better."
In the Annual Report, the Inspector of Prisons notes some concerns in relation to the delay in the ratification of the Optional Protocol of the UN Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). Significant progress has been made in addressing these concerns over the course of 2022 - the General Scheme of the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill, which was approved by Government in June 2022, has now been published. The Minister’s objective is to have the final Bill published as soon as possible, so that it may proceed to enactment without undue delay, and allow for ratification of OPCAT in 2023.
The Inspector also noted concerns regarding the prisoner complaints system. Work is underway on drafting new Prison Rules and on preparation for the establishment of a new complaints system within the Irish Prison Service. While implementation has been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, significant preparatory work for the introduction of the new system has been advanced, including staff training, the development of an integrated IT system to support case handling and a draft policy for complaints handling. Engagement is ongoing with the Office of Parliamentary Council with a view to completing work on the required Statutory Instrument, and with relevant stakeholders, including the Office of the Ombudsman in preparation for its future operation.
The Minister concluded by saying:
"I want to finish by welcoming Mark Kelly, our new Inspector of Prisons. I am sure his wealth of experience will be a great asset as he undertakes this important role. I would also like to thank former Inspector of Prisons Patricia Gilheaney who retired in February of this year and Mark Toland who served as interim Inspector pending the appointment of the new Inspector of Prisons."
Mark Kelly added:
"This annual report is testament to the resilience of the Inspectorate’s team, which inspected every prison in Ireland during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are actively monitoring the implementation of the recommendations in those inspection reports. I fully endorse my predecessor’s comments about the need for a root and branch review of the prisoner complaints system and swift ratification of the OPCAT. I am encouraged by the attention being given by the Minister to these concerns."
The Report is available to read here:
The Inspector of Prisons was set up under section 30 of the Prisons Act 2007 (“the Act”). The Inspector of Prisons is appointed by the Minister for Justice to perform the functions conferred on them by Part 5 of the Act.
Patricia Gilheany, former Inspector of Prisons, retired in February 2022.
Following the completion of a Top Level Appointment Competition, held by the Public Appointment Service, the Minister appointed Mark Kelly as the new Inspector of Prisons in May 2022. In the intervening period Mark Toland acted as interim Inspector.
The Inspector of Prisons is independent in the performance of their functions. Staff and office facilities for the Inspector are provided from within Department of Justice resources as the Office of the Inspector of Prisons.
The role of the Inspector of Prisons is as follows:
It is not a function of the Inspector to investigate or adjudicate on a complaint from an individual prisoner, but they may examine the circumstances relating to a prisoner complaint where necessary for performing their functions.