Dublin, 4 October 2023

Ireland’s statutory prison watchdog, the Office of the Inspectorate of Prisons (OIP), has just completed a two-week unannounced full inspection of the Dóchas Centre (Women’s Prison) in Dublin. The visit concluded on Monday 2 October 2023 with a formal meeting at which the Inspectorate shared its preliminary findings with the Governor and senior staff.

This is the fifth unannounced full inspection of an Irish prison in the last ten months and forms part of the Inspectorate’s programme of regular inspections of all prisons in Ireland.

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

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

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

The inspection was carried out by:

  • Mr Mark Kelly, Chief Inspector of Prisons
  • Dr Ciara O’Connell, Senior Inspector
  • Dr Sarah Curristan, Inspector
  • Mr Thomas Harte, Inspector
  • Ms Michelle Martyn, Inspector
  • Dr Douglas Nanka-Bruce, Data Analyst
  • Ms Louise Joyce, Office Manager

They were assisted by:

  • Dr Brendan O’Connell, Senior Psychologist
  • Ms Maxine Radcliffe, Nursing Clinical and Operational Lead for Vulnerable People
  • Dr Sophie van der Valk, Human Rights Expert

The inspection team also benefitted from the expertise of Ms Liz O’Neill and Ms Catherine Treacy from the Inspectorate of the Department of Education (*).

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

“It is internationally recognised that women living in prison constitute a group with needs which are distinct from those of men.  Factors that should be taken into account in prisons for women include genuine sensitivity to any physical, sexual or psychological forms of violence, including domestic violence, that they may have endured before imprisonment, awareness of their mental health-care needs, the impact of drug or alcohol dependency, specific health-care needs including reproductive health, and recognition of their ongoing caretaking responsibilities for their children and/or families. This calls for a trauma-informed approach by prison staff at all levels, from the time of committal and throughout a woman’s time in prison.”

“Our inspection work in the Dóchas Centre was strongly guided by these considerations, and I would like to thank the Governor and the staff of the Centre for their cooperation and engagement with our preliminary findings”.

The Inspectorate’s full report will be 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. The Inspectorate’s Annual Report for 2022 was submitted to the Minister within this deadline.

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 Chief Inspector may make in the performance of his functions.

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 Chief 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.

For further information, please see: www.oip.ie