Thursday, 17 December 2020
Department of Justice and Equality
478. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she has received prison inspection reports from the Inspector of Prisons in 2020; if so, the prisons the reports related to; the month the report was received in each case; the planned timeline for publishing these reports; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44362/20]
The Inspector of Prisons, whose independence in the exercise of her functions is provided for by law, plays a vital role in ensuring effective independent oversight of our prison system. The main function of the Inspector of Prisons is to carry out regular inspections of prisons and places of detention in Ireland. The Inspector also investigates deaths of prisoners in custody and has oversight of the prisoner complaints procedure in the Irish Prison Service.
The Inspector of Prisons is cognisant of the requirement for enhanced oversight during a pandemic when society in general is subject to restrictions on daily life and increased restrictions are placed on people in custody. Such restrictions must be the least intrusive necessary to achieve the desired public health objectives and also be in place for the minimum time necessary. Oversight is therefore essential in order to provide independent verification that the human rights of persons in custody are being respected and that national legislation is being adhered to.
I wish to confirm to the Deputy that while no formal inspection by the Inspector of Prisons took place in 2020, the Inspector of Prisons visited every prison during the year to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, in order to hear from as many prisoners as possible within the current public health restrictions in prisons, a journal was issued to a number of prisoners in custody in seven prisons. The cohort of prisoners selected were being ‘cocooned’ and the intent was to capture their ‘lived experiences’ during this time. The journal was left with the prisoners concerned for 14 days with the aid of the Prison Service Irish Red Cross volunteers in each of the prisons. In July 2020, the Inspector published the related briefing note “Ameliorating the impact of cocooning on people in custody – a briefing” which aims to provide insight into how people in custody experienced cocooning.
The Inspector of Prisons also spent three days in one prison in late April/early May. This afforded the Inspector the opportunity to speak with and directly hear the experiences of prisoners and staff during this time. A report of this Monitoring Oversight Visit was submitted to my office on 5 August 2020.
In addition, the Deputy may wish to note that a significant amount of reports from the Inspector of Prisons have been published since 2014. These include 92 reports into deaths in custody or deaths that occurred on temporary release, two inspection reports in relation to Loughan House 2014 and the Training Unit 2017, as well as seven thematic and functional reports and three special investigation reports.