Numbers of prisoners dying rose to 22 in 2015

Causes of death in jail or on temporary release include illness, suicide and overdoses

There was a significant increase last year in the number of inmates dying in Irish prisons or while on temporary release.

According to unreleased figures seen by The Irish Times, 22 people died last year while in the custody of the Irish Prison Service. This compares to 14 each for 2014 and 2013.

All deaths of inmates, either in the country's 14 prisons or while on temporary release, are investigated by the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly.

Judge Reilly said investigations are still continuing into 10 of the 22 deaths last year.


Of the 12 investigation reports released so far, six related to deaths on temporary release. Two prisoners died of overdoses shortly after being freed, while another was shot dead shortly after release.

Of the deaths in prisons, the judge found one inmate likely took his own life, four died from overdoses and two died from physical illnesses.

Since 2011, 11 inmates have taken their own lives in prison, according to the reports. Judge Reilly has repeatedly raised concerns about the monitoring of vulnerable or suicidal prisoners. He has voiced frustration recommendations made by him to avoid future deaths are not taken on board.

Vulnerable prisoners

Other criticisms relate to inadequate prison records for vulnerable inmates and a lack of information-sharing, which may have contributed to prisoner

Paschal Doyle

not being brought to hospital until 39 hours after a doctor had ordered it, according to the judge. Doyle’s death is the subject of an inquest which will resume on May 30th.

Last month, Judge Reilly released a report into the death of a prisoner who took his own life in March 2015, less than 90 minutes after prison staff concluded he was pretending to be suicidal. In his report, the judge said he found “serious issues of significant concern”, including intervals of up 81 minutes between cell checks that night when they should have been no more than 15 minutes apart.

Shoelaces not removed

He also found the prisoner was discovered hanging by a shoelace despite officers being ordered to remove his shoelaces earlier in the night.

Last week, the judge published a report into the death of Douglas Ward who was serving a 10-year sentence for manslaughter. Judge Reilly determined he had likely died from drinking "hooch" – alcohol made in prison – and taking prescription tablets.

The judge said prison authorities must prevent the brewing of hooch and stop the flow of drugs into Mountjoy.

A Prison Service spokesman said there was no specific reason to explain the jump in deaths last year but pointed out there has been only one death in custody in 2016 so far.

“Prison staff are regularly reminded of the need to adhere to standard operating procedures and protocols. Any failure to adhere to these is investigated by the Governor and the governor will then take appropriate action including disciplinary action if required,” he said. Each prison had its own suicide prevention group, he added.

One of the biggest concerns is the Irish Prison Service is not learning from its mistakes, said director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust Deirdre Malone. "Repetition of identified poor practice is inexcusable, can create a culture of impunity, and exacerbates the grief of families. If there can be any positive legacy . . . it must be an assurance to bereaved families that lessons will be learned from their loss and future deaths averted.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times