14 inmates died while on release or in custody
State Inspector calls for better supervision as details of prisoner deaths last year emerge
Published 16/03/2014 | 02:30
FOURTEEN prisoners died while in custody or on temporary release last year, new figures obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal.
The revelation comes as the State's Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, launched a scathing attack on our prisons' failure to provide adequate services to inmates on temporary release.
And in separate reports into the deaths of two prisoners, Judge Reilly has called on jail chiefs to implement a number of recommendations to prevent further fatalities.
The deaths are likely to spark fresh calls for prisoners on temporary release to be electronically tagged, a proposal which is currently being considered by a penal review group. The Government has previously approved the drafting of a wide-ranging Sexual Offences Bill to extend electronic monitoring to some sex offenders.
One shocking report details the circumstances surrounding the death of 'Prisoner L', who took his own life in late October 2012 while on temporary release. The prisoner, who had a history of alcohol abuse, was committed to Mountjoy prison on September 12 and was due to be released on December 1 that year.
He was granted temporary release on September 21, but subsequently failed to sign on at a garda station on two separate occasions. He was recommitted to prison, but was re-granted temporary release on each occasion.
The report revealed he had been severely intoxicated the final time he was recommitted, but was then released by the governor of Mountjoy the following morning when the prisoner explained he had forgotten to sign on.
In his findings, Judge Reilly found the prison had failed to make any efforts to link the prisoner with a mental health agency during his release and that no efforts had been made by the prison to ensure the address the prisoner was released to was still available to him. It was later revealed the address the prisoner had been released to had not been available for over a year, and that the prisoner was homeless when released on each occasion.
'Prisoner L' took his own life in October 2012, just one week after he was released for the third time.
In a damning review, Judge Reilly recommended that prisoners should not be granted temporary release until a 'needs assessment' has been carried out and after links to an appropriate agency were established. The inspector also criticised the fact no efforts had been made to verify the prisoner's home address and instructed that personal information should be constantly updated, insisting it was inadequate to rely on what information the prisoner provided.
"Such information should never be relied upon on any subsequent committal," he said in the report.
In a separate report into the death of 'Prisoner A', who died while on temporary release on January 27, 2013, from the Midlands Prison, the judge found prison authorities were aware the inmate was a "vulnerable person" and had received psychiatric care while incarcerated.
However, the report states there was "no record of any formal assessment" prior to his temporary release and "no formal arrangements for supervision of the deceased in the community" post his release.
This contravenes the Criminal Justice Act 1960, which allows for temporary release, but only when "each application for temporary release is examined on its own merits".
The prison had also not informed the community mental health nurse that the prisoner had been released. The inspector said assessments must be conducted before a prisoner is granted temporary release, particularly in the case of vulnerable prisoners.
"In an obvious case, where supervision in the community is required, a prisoner should never be released on temporary release until the prison authorities and relevant agencies are satisfied that appropriate arrangements are in place," the report states.
Recommendations by the inspector are not legally binding.
However, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said Minister Alan Shatter "fully expects that the recommendations contained in the inspector's reports will be acted upon by the Irish Prison Service and all necessary steps taken to ensure any deficiencies identified by the Inspector are addressed".
Both temporary release and electronic tagging have been considered by the penal review group which is expected to report to the minister before Easter.
The Government approved the drafting of a wide-ranging Sexual Offences Bill last December, which includes provisions for the electronic monitoring of convicted sex offenders in specific circumstances.
Last week, the Irish Prison Service (IPS) issued a public tender for the provision of electronic monitoring for tracking of prisoners on temporary release.
A spokesman for IPS said a small number of prisoners were electronically tagged currently, typically for a hospital visit or other short-term prison release.
He said the current service agreement had expired, which was why the tender had been issued this week.
Mr Shatter's Fine Gael colleague Brendan Griffin urged the minister to fast-track the electronic tagging of prisoners.
He told the Sunday Independent: "Where you have someone who has to sign in at a garda station post-release, they have seven days in-between to present at a garda station. I have spoken to gardai who say that is too long a time in a lot of cases."