The law underpinning the role of 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 Inspector, Section 31 sets out the functions of the Inspector and Section 32 specifies the requirement to submit an Annual Report to the Minister for Justice and Equality, by 31 March in any year.
Under Section 31 of the Act the 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 Inspector considers appropriate.
The Inspector may, and must if she 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.
Since 2012, the Inspector has been tasked by the Minister with the investigation into 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)).