Prison watchdog criticises Mountjoy over repeated staff failures

Inspector calls for ‘zero tolerance’ approach following report into death of inmate

The report noted that the prisoner had gone unchecked for two periods of over 2 hours on the night when he should have been checked hourly in accordance with operating procedures. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

The prison watchdog has criticised the authorities in Mountjoy for repeated failures by staff to notice that a prisoner had died in his cell.

The Inspector of Prisons, Patricia Gilheaney, has called for "zero tolerance" to be shown by the Irish Prison Service (IPS) over failures to carry out mandatory checks at regular intervals on prisoners with appropriate disciplinary action to be taken on prisoner officers who failed to perform such duties.

It follows a report into the death of a 41-year-old inmate at Mountjoy on January 10th, 2018 which found prison officers had missed at least four opportunities to have noticed that the unnamed prisoner had died during the night.

The report noted that the prisoner had gone unchecked for two periods of 2½ hours on the night when he should have been checked hourly in accordance with IPS operating procedures.


Ms Gilheaney said a night guard as well as prison officers who unlocked and locked the prisoner’s cell for breakfast and who later unlocked his cell to allow him out to attend morning activities had all failed to identify a serious situation.

The prisoner, who was serving a life sentence, was found unresponsive in his cell by two other inmates at 9.57am.

The report said one prison officer who rushed to the cell said the prisoner’s face appeared to be covered in vomit.

Ms Gilheaney said prisoner officers unlocking a cell for breakfast should particularly ensure that they sought and received a verbal response from each prisoner to ensure they were alive.

Safe custody

The report said CCTV footage had also found that the prison officer with responsibility for the landing on which the prisoner died had not remained at their post for the duration of their work shift.

“Prisons are required to provide safe and secure custody and it is critically important that staff carry out their duties and in accordance with IPS policies and procedure,” Ms Gilheaney said.

However, she welcomed a new standard operating procedure introduced by the IPS in April 2019 which specifically relates to the monitoring of prisoners by officers on night duty.

The inspector said the director general of the IPS, Caron McCaffrey, had accepted all four recommendations contained in the report and an action plan addressing corrective and preventative actions was being implemented to give them effect.

The IPS said a review of its policy and procedures in relation to the monitoring of prisoners had led to the introduction of a new policy which dealt comprehensively with the responsibility of prison staff to check on all prisoners in custody.

It said the new policy highlighted how the monitoring of prisoners was “a core responsibility” for frontline staff.

The IPS said all prison staff had been made aware that the failure to carry out mandatory monitoring of inmates would be regarded as serious misconduct warranting disciplinary action that could result in sanctions up to and including dismissal.

Released too early

The prison authorities said they had also made changes to the IPS’s policy on CCTV usage to allow for improved monitoring of compliance by its staff.

The inspector also released three other reports into inmates who died while on temporary release, including two who were released due to overcrowding. One female inmate was released 14 days into a four month sentence.

The woman, identified as Ms M, died in a fire at her home on July 28th, 2018 shortly after her release from the Dóchas Centre due to overcrowding.

The Dóchas Centre has capacity for 105 prisoners. At the time there were 138 women there.

Ms M was a drug addict and was to attend a treatment facility during her release.

Following her death, her family told the inspector she should not have been released so soon into her sentence.

“It was their view that had their daughter been kept in prison for the duration of her sentence she may have undergone successful treatment for illicit drug addiction and may not have died,” Ms Gilheaney wrote.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times