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, 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)).
The key role assigned to us is to carry out regular inspections of all prisons in Ireland and to present a report on each institution inspected to the Minister for Justice.
An Inspection Framework for the Inspection of Prisons in Ireland has been developed and was launched on 15 September 2020.
The Inspection Framework sets out how we will conduct inspections of prisons in Ireland. It is informed by the statutory underpinning of the Inspector in legislation, national legislation relating to prisons and prisoners’ rights, and international obligations owing to prisoners. It also draws upon relevant international human rights standards, in particular the preventive approach and standards set by the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT).
Under Part 5 of the Prisons Act 2007, the Inspector of Prisons is required to carry out investigations into any matter relating to the operation and management of a prison as requested by the Minister for Justice. The Inspector of Prisons may also, of her own volition decide to investigate any matter she considers to be of concern.
Currently investigations conducted by us are mainly limited to Deaths in Custody and any death of a prisoner on temporary release that occurs within one month of his/her release from prison.
The objectives for our investigations of deaths in custody are to:
Establish the circumstances and events surrounding the death, including the care provided by the Irish Prison Service;
Examine whether any changes in Irish Prison Service operational methods, policy, practice or management arrangements could help prevent a similar death in future;
Ensure that the prisoner’s family have an opportunity to raise any concerns they may have, and take these into account in the investigation; and
Assist the Coroner’s investigative obligation under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, by ensuring as far as possible that the full facts are brought to light and any relevant failing is exposed, any commendable practice is identified, and any lessons from the death are learned.
These investigations are not and do not purport to answer all questions surrounding a death. Our investigations are part of a three pronged process – the other elements being the investigation by An Garda Síochána and the investigation and Inquest by a Coroner.
The combination of a Garda Síochána Investigation, the Coroner’s Investigation and Inquest together with our investigation and subsequent report demonstrates Ireland’s compliance with national and international obligations in particular the criteria laid down in Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Rule 44 (1)(h) of the Irish Prison Rules 2007-2017 makes it clear that a prisoner is entitled to write to the Inspector of Prisons and his/her letter cannot be opened in the prison and must be sent without delay. We respond to all of the letters received.
Please note that the Office of the Inspector of Prisons does not deal with complaints from, or on behalf of individual prisoners. Whilst we do not investigate individual prisoner complaints, we may examine the circumstances surrounding a complaint in the course of carrying out an inspection and/or investigation.
The law that provides for prisoner complaints specifies that a complaint about a prison and or its staff is made to the Irish Prison Service who are required to investigate all such complaints.
Rule 57B of the Prison Rules 2007-2017 applies to any complaint made by any person alleging assault or use of excessive force against a prisoner, or ill-treatment, racial abuse, discrimination, intimidation, threats or any other conduct against a prisoner of a nature and gravity likely to bring discredit on the Irish Prison Service. These complaints are made to the Irish Prison Service and they are referred to as Category A complaints. Certain legal obligations are placed on Governors of Prisons and the Director General of the Irish Prison Service in terms of notifications and the provision of reports and reasoned decisions to the Inspector of Prisons in relation to such complaints. The Inspector of Prisons has oversight of all Category A investigations and must be given access to any relevant material and she may investigate any aspect that she considers relevant.