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Prison watchdog questions use of handcuffs for escorting gravely ill prisoners to hospital

The family of a terminally ill prisoner had expressed concern at the use of handcuffs in bringing him to hospital.

Image: Shutterstock/sakhorn

THE PRISON WATCHDOG has called on the Irish Prison Service to review its use of handcuffs on gravely ill prisoners for escorts to hospitals and other care facilities.

The Inspectors of Prisons has recommended the prison authorities should consider making specific provision “in a humane manner” for the safe and secure custody of seriously ill individuals.

It follows a report into the death of a terminally ill prisoner at the Mater Hospital in Dublin on March 16, 2019 and concerns expressed by his family at the use of handcuffs in bringing him to hospital.

The chief inspector, Patricia Gilheaney, acknowledged that there was a requirement for the provision of safe and secure custody when escorting prisoners outside of prison but claimed the “one size fits all approach” did not take into consideration the specific needs of extremely ill prisoners.

Although not identified in the report, the prisoner was Donal Colgan (67), a former British army soldier of Killarney Court, Dublin 1 ,who had been serving a life sentence in Mountjoy Prison since November 2017 for the murder of a man outside a chip shop in Dublin’s north inner city in August 2014.

The chief inspector, Patricia Gilheaney, said the dead prisoner’s two sisters had expressed upset at the fact that their brother had been brought to and from hospital in handcuffs despite being frail and terminally ill.

They also stated they would have liked to have taken him home to care for him in his final days.

Gilheaney said the prisoner’s relatives felt their voice had not been heard and they claimed the appointment of a liaison person by the prison authorities would have been helpful in dealing with such a stressful and difficult situation.

Standing operating procedures for prison staff stipulate that prisoners being escorted to hospitals as inpatients must remain handcuffed to a prison officer at all times.

Colgan had been moved to the Progression Unit in Mountjoy during his imprisonment because of his poor health, while other prisoners had volunteered to assist him with daily activities in relation to personal hygiene and cleaning his cell.

Among the illnesses from which he suffered were diabetes, hypertension, gout, coeliac disease, asthma, cirrhosis of the liver, depression, dementia, encephalopathy and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as well as hearing problems.

He had required ten hospital admissions during his 16 months in prison due to his complex medical history, spending a total of 58 days in hospital as an inpatient as well as attending 11 outpatient clinics.

Gilheaney said it was understandable that Colgan’s family was upset that a gravely ill man was transferred to and from hospital in handcuffs

The IPS said its policy on the escorting of prisoners was due for review this month and it would take the inspector’s recommendation “on board.”

As a result of other reports into the separate deaths of prisoners in Cork and Portlaoise, Gilheany made several other recommendations including that a portable alert device should be made available to incapacitated prisoners who were incapable of reaching the in-cell alarm system.

The IPS said such a facility would be integrated into any cell allocated for people with disabilities and such improvements should be completed by the end of October.

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Seán McCárthaigh

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