Prisoner with cancer died less than 24 hours after delayed compassionate release, report finds

Office of the Inspector of Prisons recommends applications be processed more quickly

The Office of the Inspector of Prisons has recommended that applications for compassionate temporary release should be processed more quickly after it took 22 days to decide whether an inmate with stage-four cancer should be granted reprieve. The 67-year-old prisoner died less than 24 hours after his application was approved by the Minister for Justice.

A report by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons on the death of the inmate referred to as “Mr A” that was published on Thursday makes a series of recommendations regarding end-of-life and palliative care for prisoners.

Mr A was committed to Cork Prison in May 2015 after being sentenced to 10 years. He was married with children and grandchildren, and was from the Munster area, according to the report.

He had regular interactions with prison medical services for stage-four cancer and other issues, and on January 13th, 2020, was admitted to Cork University Hospital as an inpatient with a prison escort for security.

On January 15th, the prison’s chief nursing officer (CNO) advised the clinical lead of the Irish Prison Service (IPS) that the governor was submitting an application for temporary release on compassionate grounds. The following day the CNO reported that Mr A had become “extremely unwell”, and the prison doctor wrote to the governor, recommending compassionate temporary release.

On January 18th the inmate’s consultant oncologist also recommended granting temporary release in an email to the prison governor, but it was not until January 20th that an application was finally submitted to the IPS director of operations.

The next day the prison doctor again wrote to the governor advising him that Mr A was terminally ill and approaching the end of life. He said compassionate release should be granted so he could have “a dignified death”.

On January 22nd the IPS director of operations corresponded with the clinical lead to establish whether palliative care could be administered in Cork Prison. This option continued to be explored on January 23rd and 24th.

A request to grant temporary release on compassionate grounds was eventually submitted to the Minister for Justice on February 5th, but was not granted until 5.44pm on February 11th. The prison escort was stood down but the man died in hospital on February 12th.

The report noted that the man’s daughter was complimentary of the prison officers who had conducted escort duties for 22 days, but said it would have been better for the family if temporary release had been granted sooner.

The Office of the Inspector of Prisons recommended that decisions in respect of compassionate temporary release should be made expeditiously, especially where end-of-life care is being administered. “This would respect dignity in death for the prisoner and for a family to be allowed privacy,” the report stated. It said policy should dictate the duration of the decision-making process.

The IPS did not accept this recommendation, however, arguing that placing timelines on a complex process could lead to poor decision-making. It said each case must be assessed on its merits, and take into account factors such as the nature of the offence and the length of the sentence.

Other recommendations were accepted by the prison authority, and an end-of-life and palliative care policy has since been established and distributed to the governors of the State’s detention facilities.