The independence of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons will be demonstrated by consistency in demanding that prisoners are treated in accordance with international norms and that prisons are operated to best standards.
Judge Reilly states that "his tenure as Inspector of Prisons will be characterised by independence, fairness and the setting of standards, which the law envisage and the general public would wish to see emphasised".
The Inspection Process
In the Interim Report of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons the Inspector outlined the procedures he intends to adopt to comply with his statutory duties in carrying out his inspections of prisons. On taking up the position as Inspector of Prisons, Judge Reilly found that there were no set procedures in existence for the inspection of prisons. The following is a brief explanation of the procedures that the Office has adopted and will follow in carrying out its mandate.
Ad hoc inspections
Side by side with announced visits, the Office of the Inspector of Prisons have made and will make ad hoc unannounced visits to all prisons not alone during business hours but also during off peak hours including night visits and at week-ends. These visits will not be for the purpose of wrong-footing anyone but simply because, in the Inspector’s view, inspection systems which are entirely predictable as to timing no longer carry any measure of public credibility. The purpose of these visits is to ensure that standards in all prisons are maintained and are not dependent on the arrival or non arrival of the Inspector. If during the course of these inspections the Inspection Team discovers matters of concern they will bring these to the attention of the Governor of the prison concerned and or to such other persons as may be appropriate as set out in Section 31 (1) (c) of the Prisons Act 2007.
Detailed inspections of individual prisons
The Inspector further explained in his Interim Report that he will also carry out detailed inspections of a number of prisons each year. The prisons will be selected on a random basis and will not follow any particular sequence. These inspections will be thorough. A separate report of such inspections will be submitted to the Minister for each prison so inspected.
Initially the Inspection Team will carry out an unannounced inspection of a prison. The Team will arrive at approximately 9 am and the inspection will last a minimum of two days. In depth analysis of all areas of the prison will be carried out. The Inspection Team will talk to prisoners and members of staff and will examine records as deemed appropriately. Immediately following this inspection the Inspector will bring to the notice of the Governor by letter, and the Irish Prison Service (if relevant), matters of concern (if any) detected during the inspection. The Inspector will give the Governor a period of time within which to comment on and deal with his concerns. The Governor will be asked to complete a questionnaire which will give the Inspection Team technical information on the running of the prison.
In the weeks following the initial inspection the Inspection Team will work with management of the prison to ensure that their concerns are dealt with. If any concerns cannot be met by local management the Inspector will take up such matters with the appropriate authority. Full cooperation from management and the Irish Prison Service is expected in this regard. To date the Inspector has received this cooperation.
Approximately 2 or 3 months after the initial inspection the Inspection Team will carry out an announced inspection of the prison. The purpose of this inspection will be twofold:-
- to again inspect all areas of the prison but will pay particular attention to those areas which initially caused concern, and
- to meet with the governor, prisoners, visitors, representatives of the visiting committee, senior management, branch officers of the Prison Officers Association, members of staff, chaplains, teachers, doctors, dentists, nurses, probation officers, addiction counsellors and others who wish to see the Inspector or who provide services to prisoners. These meetings will be structured with advance notice to all.
Between the initial unannounced inspection and the announced inspection and up to the submission of the report, the Inspector will make further announced and unannounced visits both during ‘working hours’ and ‘off peak hours’ as he deems appropriate.
The Report of the Inspector of Prisons will not reflect one particular point in time; instead they will be reflective of an ongoing inspection and consultative process over a number of months. They will offer an accurate representation of the conditions of each individual prison.
The general – broadly consultative – approach adopted by the Inspector will not be possible in all cases if it immediately becomes apparent that matters of very serious concern such as serious human rights abuses need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. If these occur the Inspector will bring these serious matters to the notice of the Minister immediately and will take such further steps as deemed necessary.