Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Questions (229)

Mick Wallace

Question:

229. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of prison officers formally disciplined by the Irish Prison Service in response to breaches of prisoner privacy in 2018 and to date in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24892/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I can advise the Deputy that, within the Irish Prison Service, the divulging of information regarding prisoners' private affairs is viewed as a very serious matter. In the course of an officer's work he or she may have access to, or hear information concerning the personal affairs of a prisoner and/or employee. Such information is strictly confidential.

Any member of the Irish Prison Service who discharges or divulges information to any third party or the media is not only contravening clear policy, but is also contravening the law. The divulging of information regarding prisoners' private affairs is very damaging to prisoners, to the families of those who are in prison and to the Irish Prison Service. Such breaches have very real potential to compromise the safety and security of prisoners and prison staff. Breaches of this nature are an offence under the Prison (Disciplinary Code for Officers) Rules, 1996: 'Breach of Confidence, that is to say, without proper authority, directly or indirectly disclosing, divulging, communicating, publishing or causing to be divulged, communicated or published any information not lawfully available to members of the public which comes to his or her knowledge from official sources or derives from his or her duties.'

It is open to a Governor, where it appears an officer may have committed a breach of discipline of this nature, to carry out an investigation under the Code of Discipline, and if he or she is satisfied that the alleged breach has occurred, to proceed to an oral hearing on the matter under the Code. The penalties provided for under the Code are (a) a reprimand, or (b) a reprimand plus a reduction in rank or a reduction in pay by deferment of one or more increments for one, three, six or twelve months or any longer period the Governor may specify, or (c) dismissal from the Prison Service.

Any such breach of confidence would also be a breach of the Official Secrets Act 1963 and could be subject to prosecution under Section 13 of that Act. When officers are recruited to the Irish Prison Service they are required to sign a copy of the Official Secrets Act 1963. Staff are also expected to sign to acknowledge that they have received this particular Act in hardcopy and that they have read and understand it. During their induction, Officers are educated about the use of information and discretion and are made aware of their legal obligations in this regard.

I can inform the Deputy that in advance of the General Data Protection Regulation coming into effect on Friday 25th May 2018, the Irish Prison Service carried out awareness sessions across the Irish Prison Service estate. The Irish Prison Service continues to take every measure to ensure full compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation. A staff obligations note outlining the roles and responsibilities of all staff in relation to Data Protection was issued to all personnel via email, notice boards, internal intranet and via "pop-up" informational messages on each staff members PC.

In addition, staff have been made aware that all accesses to data are recorded and that these records are retained and available for auditing. Access to and usage of data is subject to periodic examination and audit conducted as part of the Irish Prison Services’ on-going audit and review process. Monthly random audits are carried out on our offender management system to ensure business purpose is respected and adhered to by staff accessing prisoners personal data.

I am advised by the Director General of the Irish Prison Service that up until the end of 2018 there have been no employees in the Irish Prison Service formally disciplined in response to breaches of Prisoner Privacy. There is currently one case where the disciplinary process has commenced, but has not yet been concluded.