Judge voices concern over prison record keeping

Inspector of Prisons questions veracity of record keeping by staff across the service

Despite a wide range of concerns, Judge Reilly said the prison service generally was now being run with a “foresight and tenacity” that had reformed conditions in many ways. Photograph: David Sleator

Despite a wide range of concerns, Judge Reilly said the prison service generally was now being run with a “foresight and tenacity” that had reformed conditions in many ways. Photograph: David Sleator

 
Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly has expressed serious concern that records on the day-to-day running of jails were being falsified by prison officers trained by management to

keep reports short and “cover your arse”.

Some officers were bullying prisoners, including “taking actions to ensure their discomfiture” or “denigrating” them.

Judge Reilly has also strongly emphasised the need for senior prison officials, including governors, to take responsibility for line management in Irish prisons.

“There must be consequences when this does not happen and the consequences should not depend on rank,” he said in his annual report.

Reformed conditions

However, despite a wide range of concerns, Judge Reilly said the prison service generally was now being run with a “foresight and tenacity” that had reformed conditions in many ways.

Overcrowding had eased, the provision of in-cell sanitation had been prioritised and slopping out was being phased out. Single occupancy cells were becoming the norm, as was access to activities such as education and training.

Responding to some of the concerns raised, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said the prison service was fully committed to treating everyone in its care with dignity and respect.

On the continued detention of a small number of 17-year- olds at St Patrick’s Institution in Dublin, which was of “grave concern” to Judge Reilly, Ms Fitzgerald said that practice would end very soon when a new facility in Oberstown, Co Dublin, was completed.

She added legislation was also being drawn up to provide for the complete closure of St Patrick’s.

Despite repeatedly highlighting how important the issue of record keeping was by all staff across the prison service, Judge Reilly was continuing to encounter a culture where he questioned the veracity of records.

Official records

We warned documents and reports generated by staff “are official records and it is a very serious matter to falsify official records”.

Poor records could involve a log suggesting a prisoner, held in a special observation cell, was checked regularly by staff when they were not.

In the case of reports on incidents or more general operational reports, they were at times “incomplete, inaccurate and misleading”.

A senior member of management at one prison hadonce said: “If you do not ask the right question you will not get the right answer”.

In one investigation, when referring to report writing one officer said: “We are only trained on report writing in the initial training and they tell you to ‘keep it short and cover your arse’ ”.

Judge Reilly himself concludes: “Consequences must follow for prison personnel for the foreseeable failures, falsifying documents, providing misleading reports, failing to observe protocols and/or standard operating procedures or failing to vindicate the rights of others, be they staff or prisoners, irrespective of rank”.