A new comprehensive prisoner complaints system was introduced in the Irish Prison Service in November 2012 based on a model recommended by the Inspector of Prisons who has independent oversight of the process. The intention was to have robust procedures in place which would give prisoners access to a credible complaints system that deals with genuine complaints in an open, transparent and independent way.
The system is categorised depending on the nature of the complaint. Category A complaints concern the most serious level of complaint (assault, serious intimidation by staff etc.). Category B complaints include allegations of discrimination, verbal abuse by officers and inappropriate searches. Category C complaints are essentially service complaints where a prisoner is unhappy with the level of service in a particular prison. Category D complaints are those alleging misconduct or mistreatment by professionals providing services to prisoners such as doctors, dentists etc.
In January 2013 the then Minister announced amendments to the Prison Rules to support and give effect to the new procedures for the investigation of prisoner complaints. In the main, the amendments to the Prison Rules provide that prisoner complaints under Category A will be examined by investigators from outside the Prison Service to ensure an effective and impartial investigation. The complainant will be kept informed and the reports by outside investigators are automatically submitted to the Governor in question, the Director General and the Inspector of Prisons. The Inspector of Prisons has had oversight of the process from the very beginning which was also strengthened by extra resources assigned to his office.
A panel of 22 external investigators were recruited and since the introduction of the complaints procedure in November 2012 (to end March 2015) there have been 240 Category A complaints investigated under the new system.
The Office of the Inspector of Prisons is a statutory, independent office established under the Prisons Act, 2007. As part of his oversight of the complaints process, the Inspector is in the process of reviewing the prisoner complaints procedure currently in operation and the outcome of that review will be presented to me on completion.