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Every prisoner death to come under independent investigation

The inspector of prisons will investigate the death of every person in the custody of the Irish Prison Service.

File photo.
File photo.
Image: Paul Faith/PA Wire

THE DEATH OF ANY prisoner in the custody of the Irish prison service will be subject to independent investigation by the inspector of prisons and, for the first time, the report of those investigations will be made public.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said the decision came after consultations with the inspector of prisons, Judge Reilly.

The death of any prisoner, whether from natural causes or otherwise, will be subject to an independent investigation by the inspector. The investigations will cover deaths that occur outside prison walls and the the deaths of recently or temporarily released prisoners.

The Department of Justice says that the investigations are “in addition and without prejudice to existing mechanisms in place for the investigation of deaths including garda investigations and inquests by coroners”.

“Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. There can be no questions left unanswered when a person in State custody dies,” Minister Shatter said.

“The independence and track record of the inspector speaks for itself and I am confident that the Irish Prison Service and other relevant public sector agencies will cooperate with an indeed welcome the inspector’s involvement in this area.”

“A major step”

The Irish Penal Reform Trust, which has been campaigning for such investigations, welcomed the announcement as “highly significant”.

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“This represents a major step in bringing our prison system into compliance with international human rights standards,” IRPT executive director Liam Herrick said:

It is very significant that the investigations will apply to all deaths of prisoners in State custody, including those who have recently been let out on temporary release, and that the investigation reports will be made public. It is also very positive that the proposal acknowledges the need for the families of the deceased to be involved in the process.

However, Herrick added that “questions remain over whether the inspector will have the powers to compel witnesses to give evidence” and as to the level of engagement with the deceased person’s family.

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