Dermot Rooney left prison . . . days later he was dead
The Irish Prison Service says it is moving towards the “structured” release of vulnerable prisoners
“He should not have been in a mainstream prison, and he should not have been released the way he was,” his brother says.
The Irish Prison Service (IPS) acknowledged at the inquest into Dermot’s death “that it was a failure on our part not to have consulted with Focus Ireland who had been engaging with Mr Rooney”. It also admitted no formal case review was conducted before his release, and nor were any efforts made to ensure he had someone to meet him when released.
However, it said there were “no mandatory standards” in this regard, and it defended its right not to consult family members, saying such contact was inappropriate in most cases “save with the express consent of the prisoner”.
The case has striking similarities with that of Alan Hempenstall (37), originally from Ballymun, Dublin, but homeless at the time of his death. He died of an apparent methadone overdose on March 28th, 2011, a few weeks after his temporary release from Wheatfield.
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His sister, Donna O’Connor, said Alan “went into himself” in prison and refused to let her visit. Prison staff raised concerns about his mental health but this was not passed on for reasons of patient confidentiality. The address on his admissions sheet and to which he was released was not checked – and had it been the IPS would have realised he was homeless.
At his inquest the IPS said it had acted “within the law” but “we realise what happened here was not good enough”. Had it known he was sleeping on the streets he would not have been so released.
As it was, he was let out on March 8th with €38.10 in his pocket, and the inquest heard he had difficulty accessing social welfare. His drew down his first such payment on the day of his death, and later consumed two bottles of methadone prescribed for another homeless man. He died in an alleyway in the city centre.
His sister said she was waiting for Alan to be released in April, in accordance with his sentence, when she learnt of his death. “I thought he would be better in prison than walking the streets . . . I thought he was okay. I took my eye off the ball.”
She said he used to write her long letters but a few months before his death grew “paranoid” and cut off contact.
The IPS says it is now moving away from the practice of “unstructured” releases, although critics say it is at least several years behind the European norm in this regard.
How many other people have died in the immediate wake of their release from prison is unknown. No agency records these figures, and we only know about the cases above because the next-of-kin were willing to pose awkward questions.
A similar case to come before the Coroner’s Court was that of Marcus Briggs (39), of no fixed abode but originally from England. He was found dead at Cook Street, Dublin, on February 5th, 2011, just two days after being released from Mountjoy. As with the other two, he had been jailed on minor offences.