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Inspector of Prisons was refused entry to facility by officer who 'appeared to be intoxicated'

The details of the incident are contained in the Office of Inspector of Prisons 2018 annual report.

Patricia Gilheaney
Patricia Gilheaney
Image: Laura Hutton via RollingNews.ie

THE NEW INSPECTOR of Prisons was refused entry into a facility by a prison officer who “appeared to be intoxicated”, according to a new report from the inspector’s office. 

The details of the incident are contained in the Office of Inspector of Prisons 2018 annual report

Patricia Gilheaney was appointed as Inspector of Prisons on 7 May 2018. The report outlines that following her appointment, an initial priority of Gilheaney’s was to “visit every prison in the country”. 

In one of her early visits, the report outlines that an officer refused the Inspector entry into a prison. The prison in question has not been identified. 

“He appeared to be intoxicated, ie. strong smell of alcohol and difficulty in reading the inspector’s photo identification card,” the report outlines. 

Prison management was immediately verbally notified of the incident and a report was subsequently submitted by Gilheaney to management in the prison concerned. 

Despite this incident, the Inspector noted the “professionalism and dedication of staff in challenging and sometimes dangerous situations” throughout her visits to prisons. 

Gangs and contraband

The annual report outlined numerous other issues faced by staff in Ireland’s prisons, such as the prevalence of gangs. 

The report noted that over the past number of years in Ireland, “society has witnessed an exponential growth in the number of crime related gangs and factions throughout the country”. 

The Inspector outlined that she witnessed first-hand the challenges faced by prison management and prison officers “in separating a number of rival gangs / factions not only in prison wings but also on landings in prisons”. 

“Membership or allegiance to these criminal gangs fluctuate on a continuous basis with some persons breaking links and others becoming affiliated,” the report said. 

A colour coding system is used to signify with whom the prisoners could associate with “was and continues to be used to maintain a safe environment”, according to the report. 

However, it went on to say this, “in and of itself, is high risk due to the number of factions involved”. 

Meanwhile, the ready availability of contraband in prisons was described as a “serious concern” in the report. 

It outlined that the buying and selling of illicit drugs and mobile phones in prisons “can lead to bullying and intimidation of not only the prisoners concerned, but also their family and friends”.

“Whilst acknowledging this issue exists and the inherent challenges it presents, it is important that the Irish Prison Service does not accept it ‘as the norm’ and continues to strive and increase its efforts to improve security at points of entry to prisons,” the report said. 

Mental health services

In the report, Gilheaney welcomed the granting of planning permission for a replacement 120-bed forensic mental health facility in the Central Mental Hospital.

However, she said she is “concerned” that it is likely that access by prisoners to an appropriate inpatient forensic facility “will remain a challenge following the commissioning of the new facility”. 

The Inspector’s concerns regarding the “dearth” of appropriate mental health care provision has been brought to the attention of the Minister for Justice and his officials, according to the report.

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