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'Prison security measures should respect human dignity': Review after solicitor says she was told to remove bra

The Taoiseach has asked the Justice Minister for a report on the matter.

Image: Shutterstock

SERIOUS CONCERNS HAVE been raised about security measures in prisons after a female solicitor complained she was told to remove her bra in order to be admitted to a prison to visit a client.

The Irish Examiner yesterday first reported on the complaint from the solicitor, who said the alarm sounded in the prison as she passed through a security monitor and she was asked to remove her shoes, earrings, watch and coat.

When she went through the monitor for a second time, the alarm sounded again and the solicitor claims she was asked if she was wearing underwear as this may have triggered the alarm.

In her complaint she reportedly stated that she was told she would have to remove her bra if she wanted to gain access to the prison for an urgent meeting with her client, so she complied.

She said the incident took place in front of four male prison officers and a male senior counsel.

The Irish Prison Service is now conducting a review of its security screening procedures and customer service training.

Today the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) noted the concerns raised, stating that it had sought assurances in July last year that changes to security screening due to the pandemic would still respect individual dignity of prisoners, staff and visitors. 

“We acknowledged the necessity of prison security, in which searches should be ‘conducted in a manner that is respectful of the inherent human dignity and privacy, as well as the principles of proportionality, legality and necessity’ (Rule 50, UN Mandela Rules),” the IPRT said in a statement.

“We articulated our concerns that any policy decisions against the use of handheld scanners, for example, had the potential to impact on the human dignity of women and girls in particular. For visitors, who may have travelled a long distance at their own expense, the option to reschedule a visit is not acceptable.”

The organisation said prison security “can and should be achieved” while also respecting the “inherent human dignity and privacy” of visitors. 

The IPRT said wider concerns raised by families on access visits are among the areas that will be addressed at an event next week.

In the Dáil yesterday Taoiseah Micheál Martin said he had been “very struck” by reports of the solicitor’s complaint.

He said he would ask the Minister for Justice for a report on the matter.

“I can understand fully why the woman in question would have felt her dignity was taken from her and felt undermined by the request. It is simply not good enough in any shape or form and needs to be addressed,” he said.

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Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who had raised the issue with the Taoiseach, said this complaint was not “run of the mill” and warrants a full review of the prison’s culture and practices to ensure this kind of treatment of any woman never happens again.

In a statement yesterday the Irish Prison Service said it offers visitors up to three opportunities to pass through metal detectors without indicating before a handheld detector is used. 

The statement said this is used to further assist in identifying where the indication is coming from but “at no point does the hand held metal detector touch the person’s body”.

A pat down search can be requested where staff cannot identify the reason for indication. The IPS said asking people to remove undergarments to gain admittance to a prison is not policy.

“Allegations or claims of inappropriate behaviour by our staff are taken very seriously and are fully investigated,” it continued. “Any visitor who has encountered such behaviour may make a complaint in writing to the Irish Prison Service or by completing a complaint form. Complaint forms are on the website of the Irish Prison Service and are also available in the Prison Visitors Area.

“In order to learn from these allegations and as part of our ongoing development programme relating to quality standards and service, a review of current Security Screening operating procedures and customer service training is in progress.

“This includes a review of policies, procedures and training for staff to ensure that there are effective communications and standards that safeguards that everyone is treated in a proper, fair and impartial manner, while at all times remaining courteous and sensitive.”

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