Midlands prison criticised over dead inmate’s accommodation

Inspector of Prisons says management did not exercise the expected duty of care

A cell in the Midlands prison in Portlaoise. The Inspector of Prisons has said in a report that management at the prison ‘did not exercise the duty of care that would be expected’ in the case of a deceased prisoner. Photograph: The Irish Times

A cell in the Midlands prison in Portlaoise. The Inspector of Prisons has said in a report that management at the prison ‘did not exercise the duty of care that would be expected’ in the case of a deceased prisoner. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

An inmate who died in Midlands Prison in 2013 was in a “totally inappropriate” accommodation situation with a volatile cellmate, according to an independent report published on Monday.

A review by the Inspector of Prisons concluded that the unnamed man was assaulted in the prison’s G Wing on the evening of February 12th, 2013 when he died, and that his much younger cellmate had been brewing “hooch” (an illicit alcoholic substance) in the cell prior to the violent incident.

According to the assessment of judge Michael Reilly, the deceased had suffered head injuries which “appeared not to have been self-inflicted”.

Prison officers at the Portlaoise facility discovered him in an unconscious state on his bed bunk at approximately 7.15pm and he was later pronounced dead by the prison doctor at 8.20pm.

A nurse who attended to the scene told the inspector that the deceased man had sustained deep, one inch-long lacerations over his eyebrow and on the back of his head, and there were further injuries on his chest and arms.

A Garda investigation into the circumstances of the man’s death remains open. No prosecutions have been taken to date in the case.

A postmortem carried out by the State Pathologist determined the cause of death was cardiac arrest precipitated by blunt force trauma to the head and body.

The Inspector of Prisons report found that prison management “did not exercise the duty of care that would be expected” in the case of the deceased prisoner, and said no appropriate assessment was carried out on either him or his cellmate to ascertain their compatibility for a shared living situation.

The judge was critical of the fact that no internal review into the incident was carried out by prison management until “many months” after the death, and said the two prisoners should not have been sharing the same cell.

He recommended the Irish Prison Service should “as a matter of urgency” define a streamlined response “to ensure compliance with best practice in scene preservation” after it came to light that the scene of the assault was “contaminated” following removal of the body by prison staff and emergency services.

It was added that prisoners should not share cells unless a comprehensive assessment is carried out on each individual, and that elderly prisoners should always be given their own cell.

The inspector found that the 61-year-old, who was from Munster and is survived by his three brothers and a sister, was frail and in a “general state of debility” following a series of illnesses.

During a meeting with the prison doctor on January 21st, 2013 it was noted the deceased was “upset” and “not happy” that he was being moved from a single occupancy cell to a shared cell situation, and the doctor recommended that he should be placed in a single cell “considering his condition and vulnerability”.

Despite this, he was moved to a double cell in the prison’s G Wing five days later, and lived alongside a younger man who was a “known brewer of hooch”, was “volatile”, and had received repeated censures from prison authorities for threatening behaviour and fighting.

Commenting on the report, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald offered her condolences to the family of the dead man, and said a better system was now in place for deaths in custody.

“The Irish Prison Service has taken steps to address the Inspector’s concerns and a cell share risk assessment pilot has commenced in Midlands Prison. Investigation procedures following all deaths in custody have been enhanced,” she said.