Ireland’s statutory prison watchdog, the Office of the Inspectorate of Prisons (OIP), has just completed unannounced general inspections of the Midlands Prison and the National Violence Reduction Unit (NVRU) housed at that prison. The Inspectorate’s two weeks in the prison concluded yesterday, Tuesday 9 July 2024, with a formal meeting at which the Inspectorate shared its preliminary findings with the Governor, senior staff and a representative of Irish Prison Service Headquarters.

Eight of Ireland’s thirteen prisons have now received unannounced general inspections as part of the Inspectorate’s new programme of regular inspections of all prisons in Ireland.

The inspections were carried out under the Inspectorate’s Framework for Inspection of Prisons in Ireland.

Specially-secured electronic tablets were used to enable a significant number of prisoners to complete an anonymous survey. Staff working in the Midlands Prison and the NVRU were also surveyed anonymously. These survey results became available in real time during the inspection.

This inspection was carried out by:

  • Mr. Mark Kelly, Chief Inspector of Prisons
  • Ms. Pia Janning, Senior Inspector
  • Dr. Ciara O’Connell, Senior Inspector and Inspection Coordinator
  • Ms. Laura Anderson, Inspector
  • Mr. Matthew Butterly, Inspector
  • Dr. Sarah Curristan, Inspector
  • Ms. Michelle Martyn, Inspector
  • Dr. Douglas Nanka-Bruce, Data Analyst

The OIP Inspection Team was assisted by the following experts:

  • Dr. Katherine Brown, Consultant Psychiatrist
  • Mr. Sam Gluckstein, Head of the United Kingdom National Preventive Mechanism (NPM)
  • Dr. Kieran Kennedy, General Practitioner
  • Dr. George O’Mahony, General Practitioner
  • Dr. Elaine Rogers, Senior Psychologist
  • Mr. Alexander Ross, Consultant on Prison Regimes and Operations
  • Dr. Sophie Van der Valk, Human Rights Expert

The team also benefitted from the expertise of Ms Frances Moss and Ms Caroline O’Shea from the Inspectorate of the Department of Education (*).

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

“On the final day of these inspections, a total of 993 people were being held in the Midlands Prison, including the eight people living in the NVRU. Ireland’s largest prison currently has a total official bed capacity of 875, which means that it is overcrowded to 113% of its capacity. On any one day, some 29 prisoners are obliged to sleep on mattresses on the floor, wedged next to un-partitioned toilets in the cells in which they and their cellmates also eat and drink.  Moreover, the total prison population has recently exceeded 5000 for the first time (against a system bed capacity of 4,514) which means that these degrading conditions are replicated in many of the other prisons that have been inspected in recent times. Urgent action is required to address the ongoing overcrowding crisis in Ireland’s prisons.”

“The Inspectorate profited from its time in the Midlands Prison to inspect the National Violence Reduction Unit (NVRU), which is managed separately. This was the first unannounced full inspection of this Unit since it opened in 2018.”

“I would like to thank the Governor of the Midlands Prison and the staff of the prison and the NVRU for their cooperation and engagement with our preliminary findings”.

The Inspectorate’s full inspection reports will be submitted to the Minister for Justice, with a view to their 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 2023 was submitted to the Minister on 29 March 2024.

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.

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