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Home > Inspector of Prisons annual report, 2018.

Guiney, Ciara (2020) Inspector of Prisons annual report, 2018. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 74, Summer 2020 , pp. 14-15.

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In December 2019, the Minister for Justice and Equality published the eight annual report of the Office of the Inspector of Prisons.1 Under section 32 of the Prisons Act 2007, the Inspector of Prisons is required to submit a report to the Department of Justice and Equality outlining how the inspector’s functions were carried out during the preceding 12 months. This was the first annual report prepared by Ms Patricia Gilheaney who was appointed inspector in May 2018. 

Office of the Inspector of Prisons

The Office of the Inspector of Prisons (OIOP) is a statutory body launched under the Prisons Act 2007 to carry out regular inspections of Irish prisons.2 The main mission of the OIOP is ‘supporting excellence in both delivery and outcomes in Ireland’s prisons through an independent programme of inspections and investigations’.3 The work is centred on several values, such as ‘independence and impartial; human rights focused; transparent and collaborative; capable and systematic’.3 

While the frequency of prison inspections is not specified in the legislation,2 according to international best practice inspections are carried out every three years.1 The main activities to be carried out by the Inspector of Prisons include: 

  • Regular inspection of all Irish prisons (n=13)
  • Investigations of deaths arising in custody and on temporary release from prison
  • Investigations requested by the Minister for Justice and Equality into how a prison is managed or functions
  • Receive and respond to prisoners’ letters
  • In accordance with Rule 57B of the Prison Rules,4 the OIOP should receive:

-           Notifications within seven days of a complaint being received by the prison governor

-           Copies of decisions for not carrying out investigations into complaints that have no foundation or do not meet criteria outlined in the Prison Rules

-           Copies of investigation team reports and interim reports

-           Letters from complainants who are dissatisfied with the outcome. 

The OIOP role does not include investigating or adjudicating over individual prisoner complaints but may examine reasons for complaints when performing this role. 

Review of operational structure and resources

An external review of OIOP operational structure and resources was submitted to the Minister of Justice and Equality in December 2018. It acknowledged the ongoing growth, progress of operating models and business processes, and the hard work and dedication of staff within the OIOP. Nonetheless, several identified areas illustrated that the OIOP was not meeting its statutory role in accordance with international best practice.

For example:

  • Only three prisons were inspected in the previous five years.
  • 50% of prison estates were not ‘formally’ inspected since the OIOP was initiated 10 years ago.
  • Due to insufficient resources, no programme of announced or unannounced inspections was made.
  • Processes were not aligned to international ‘good practice’ (p. 6).
  • The legal framework of the Prisons Act 2007 was deemed to lack clarity and comprehensiveness.
  • There was insufficient funding of the OIOP. 

While the report concluded that the OIOP was not ‘fit for purpose’ (p. 7), it acknowledged the intentions of the OIOP to develop:

  • A comprehensive and ongoing programme of inspections
  • Strong and reliable business processes based on international best practice
  • A network of expert delivery partners and advisors
  • A properly resourced inspectorate. 

Due to the level of work that had been anticipated in 2019, the first inspection was not expected to take place until 2020. The intention was to conduct the inspection in such a way that supported collaborative learning, whereby other prison estates would learn how the new inspection regime was to be carried out. This first inspection was deemed vital to embedding a new quality standard and tone in the work of a revamped prisons inspectorate (p. 7). 

Overview of 2018

Since the appointment of Ms Gilheaney in May 2018, the OIOP has been involved in several activities. For example: prison visits; the prisoner complaints system; letters from prisoners; investigations; and the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill Draft Scheme 2014. 

Prison visits

Between May and July 2018, prison familiarisation visits were carried out with the aim of seeing the prisons and meeting prisoners and prison staff. While these visits were not formal inspections, several areas of concern were identified. These involved safety (protection, solitary confinement/restricted regimes, overcrowding, broken windows, and contraband); prisoner health and provision of appropriate services; rehabilitation; equity and women prisoners; professionalism of staff; and chaplaincy. 

Prisoner complaints system

In 2018, some 79 category A complaints relating to nine prisons were reported to the OIOP. Analysis of all complaints was unachievable due to issues around submission of incomplete returns. 

Letters from prisoners

Overall, the OIOP received 71 letters from prisoners in 2018. The highest number of complaints was received from the Midlands Prison (n=13) and Mountjoy Prison (n=13). The lowest number was received from Cork Prison (n=1) and the Dóchas Centre (n=1). 


In total, 21 death-in-custody investigations were completed and submitted to the Minister in 2018. The Minister published 15 death-in-custody reports from a three-year timeframe: 2016 (n=1), 2017 (n=10), and 2018 (n=4). In addition, a further preliminary investigation was requested by the Minister in response to allegations of misconduct by the Irish Prison Service reported in the Irish Examiner. 

Inspection of Places of Detention Bill Draft Scheme 2014

Following an invitation by the Department of Justice and Equality, views on the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill Draft Scheme 2014 were submitted by the inspector to the department in September 2018. 


The Irish Penal Reform Trust welcomed this report and looks forward to the OIOP publication of the Inspection Framework and Strategic Plan.5 It believes that these documents are essential to establishing the standards that will enable the OIOP to move towards meeting the inspector’s vision of a ‘world class’1,5 Inspectorate of Prisons. 


1              Office of the Inspector of Prisons (2019) Office of the Inspector of Prisons annual report 2018. Dublin: Office of the Inspector of Prisons.

2              Prisons Act 2007 Revised (2018). Available online at:

3              Office of the Inspector of Prisons (2020) Office of the Inspector of Prisons. Available online at:

4              SI No. 252/2007 – Prison Rules 2007. Available online at:

5              Irish Penal Reform Trust (2019) Inspector of Prisons Annual Report 2018 published. Dublin: Irish Penal Reform Trust. Available online at:

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Issue Title
Issue 74, Summer 2020
August 2020
Page Range
pp. 14-15
Health Research Board
Issue 74, Summer 2020

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