Ireland’s statutory prisons watchdog, the Office of the Inspectorate of Prisons (OIP), has recently completed an unannounced full inspection of Cork Prison, from 27 March to 5 April 2023.

This inspection forms part of the Inspectorate’s new programme of regular unannounced full inspections of all prisons in Ireland.

Unannounced full inspections are carried out under the Inspectorate’s Framework for the Inspection of Prisons in Ireland, which benchmarks the performance of a prison in five main thematic areas:

  • Respect and Dignity
  • Safety and Security
  • Health and Well-being
  • Rehabilitation and Development
  • Resettlement

During the inspection, the Inspectorate again used specially-secured electronic tablets inside the prison to enable a significant number of prisoners to complete an anonymous survey. Staff working in Cork Prison were also surveyed electronically. These survey results became available in real time during the inspection.

The inspection was carried out by:

Mr Mark Kelly, Chief Inspector of Prisons
Ms Helen Casey, Deputy Chief Inspector
Dr Ciara O’Connell, Senior Inspector
Ms Michelle Martyn, Inspector
Ms Fiona O’Dea, Inspector
Mr Douglas Nanka-Bruce, Data Analyst

They were assisted by a medical expert, Professor Claire Harrison, as well as by Senior Inspectors Mr Gavin Doyle and Ms Liz O’Neill from the Inspectorate of the Department of Education(*); they were supported by the Inspectorate’s Administration Team.

Speaking at the end of the inspection, Chief Inspector Mr Mark Kelly said:

“This unannounced full inspection of Cork Prison follows hard on the heels of our recent human rights based inspection of Mountjoy Men’s Prison and our thematic inspection of mental health provision to people living in seven Irish prisons.  The activities of the Inspectorate will continue to ramp up, in line with our growing resources, and in partnership with other agencies. I am grateful to the Governor and staff of Cork Prison for their excellent cooperation during the inspection and for the positive spirit in which the prison’s management team received our preliminary findings.”

A detailed report on the inspection will now be drawn up by the Inspectorate and submitted to the Minister for Justice, with a view to its publication by the Minister under the terms of the Prisons Act 2007.

Note to Editors

The Office of the Inspector of Prisons is a statutory body, independent in how it carries out its work, set up under the Prisons Act 2007.

The law underpinning the role of Chief Inspector of Prisons is set out in Part 5, Sections 30 to 32 of the Prisons Act 2007. Section 30 provides for the appointment of the Chief Inspector, Section 31 sets out the functions of the Chief Inspector and Section 32 specifies the requirement to submit an Annual Report to the Minister for Justice, by 31 March in any year.

Under Section 31 of the Act the Chief Inspector of Prisons is obliged to carry out regular inspections of prisons and for this purpose may:

  • at any time enter any prison or any part of a prison,
  • request and obtain from the Governor a copy of any books, records, other documents or extracts from such documents, and, in the course of an inspection or arising out of an inspection bring any issues of concern to the notice of the governor of the prison concerned, the Director General of the Irish Prison Service or the Minister as the Chief Inspector considers appropriate.

The Chief Inspector may, and must if he receives a request from the Minister, investigate any matter arising out of the management or operation of a prison and shall submit to the Minister a report on any such investigation.

Governors, prison officers, other persons employed in prisons and prisoners, must as far as reasonably practicable, comply with any request for information that the Inspector may make in the performance of his or her functions.

Under the Framework for the Inspection of Prisons in Ireland, “in the event that an Inspection Team identifies concerns, either around current performance or the risk of adverse impact on future performance, of such significance and consequence that an immediate intervention to mitigate is required, then the Chief Inspector may raise an Immediate Action Notification (IAN).” An IAN can be raised with the Governor of the prison concerned, the Director General of the Irish Prison Service or the Minister for Justice, or each one of them, as the Chief Inspector considers appropriate (paragraph 2.3.5 of the Framework).

Since 2012, the Chief Inspector has also been obliged to investigate the circumstances of all deaths in custody and those within one month of temporary release from custody.

In addition to the legislative authority derived from the Act, the Inspector has specified functions under Prison Rules 2007-2013 in relation to the Irish Prison Service Prisoner Complaints Procedure (Rule 57B) and letters from prisoners (Rule 44 (1) (h)).

It is anticipated that, in the near future, the Inspectorate will become the Inspectorate of Places of Detention, with an expanded remit as the National Preventive Mechanism for the Justice sector under the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention Against Torture (OPCAT).

(*) The OIP has concluded a Memorandum of Agreement with the Inspectorate of the Department of Education, enabling it to benefit from the expertise of colleagues from that Inspectorate when assessing educational provision in prisons.

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