Irish Examiner Saturday

Prison role is delayed for year

- Maresa Fagan

A new complaints system for prisoners will be rolled out by the end of November but the ombudsman will not begin managing prisoner complaints until late 2021, the Irish Prison Service (IPS) has confirmed.

A dedicated complaints unit has been establishe­d at the service’s Longford headquarte­rs.

The prison service had received 652 complaints across six categories by the end of September, but will now move to a simpler model that will only categorise complaints as “serious” or “less serious”.

Serious complaints will be investigat­ed by independen­t external investigat­ors, and less serious complaints by prison service staff.

The ombudsman will not assume a role in managing complaints until late 2021, the prison service said.

“It is expected the Office of the Ombudsman will address complaints from prisoners who are dissatisfi­ed with the outcome provided by the Irish Prison Service to their complaint in approximat­ely 12 months from approximat­ely the end of 2021,” it said.

While welcoming the complaints system, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) expressed disappoint­ment that the ombudsman would not have a role for a year.

“Confidence in the prison complaints system is important any time but it is critically important during Covid-19, when prisoners are entirely dependent on prison staff for their care and safety,” said IPRT executive director Fíona Ní Chinnéide.

“Prisoners have reduced access to the outside world, and there are fewer external eyes in prisons. Robust monitoring and oversight must be in place to ensure rights are being met behind prison walls.”

It is five years since the Inspector of Prisons recommende­d the ombudsman have a role, and 35 years since the Whitaker Report made that recommenda­tion.

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