AG considers report into alleged covert surveillance in prisons

Charlie Flanagan said he is concerned by some of the findings of the report

An investigation was carried out after a serving prison officer alleged  conversations between inmates and solicitors had been monitored. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

An investigation was carried out after a serving prison officer alleged conversations between inmates and solicitors had been monitored. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

A report into alleged covert surveillance in the prison service is being considered by Attorney General.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said he had read the report and was concerned by some of its contents.

Mr Flanagan told reporters at the Prison Officers Association in Sligo on Thursday that once he receives the report back from the AG he will decide whether to publish it.

“I would expect it back in the coming weeks and I’ll give the matter further consideration at that point,” he added. He also acknowledged the work of the independent inspector of prisons Patricia Gilheaney.

The report is based on the investigation was carried out after a serving prison officer alleged that conversations between inmates and solicitors had been monitored and that a tracking device had been put on prison service vehicles and staff members’ private cars.

It was also claimed a private detective agency was hired to carry out the surveillance without the necessary permits, as part of an operation to stop drugs and mobile phones illegally entering prisons.

The challenges of catering for prisoners with mental health issues was raised by POA president Tony Power who told the conference research showed 70 per cent of prisoners have issues ranging from anxiety and low-level depression to psychosis.

He said staff had to deal with this issue on a daily basis with having any related formal training.

“These prisoners pose a continuing challenge to staff and add to the ever-increasing workload of already overburdened prison officers”, said Mr Power.

“Once again our members are going above and beyond the level to which they have been trained and this is totally unacceptable and increases the risk for all involved”.

Caron McCaffrey, director general of the Irish Prison Service, confirmed that any one time the prison population included about 250 inmates who are suffering from severe and enduring mental illness, including issues such as schizophrenia.

She said out of those 250, from 20 to 30 inmates at a given time were deemed as requiring admission to the Central Mental Hospital.

“We have access to a limited number of beds and the reality is that not everybody on the waiting list will get access to the Central Mental Hospital (CMH)”, she stressed.

But Ms McCaffrey said the service had been liaising directly with the CMH in relation to increasing the number of beds that are available to the prison service.

“When the new hospital opens in Portrane in 2020 we do expect to see an increase in the number of beds available to the prison service and to prisoners within our care”, she added.

Ms McCaffrey said prison service staff did an excellent job “in what is not a therapeutic community” in providing care to people suffering from mental illness.

She said it was very difficult and challenging for staff to provide such care in a prison setting for people who needed tertiary level treatment.