Shatter to act on vulnerable prisoners
New procedures will be put in place for the transfer of vulnerable prisoners following the death of a man by suicide in a holding cell following a court appearance over a year ago, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said.
Mr Shatter today published the investigation by Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, into the circumstances surrounding the death of Shane Rogers at Cloverhill Courthouse in Dublin on December 20th, 2011.
Mr Rogers from Inniskeen, Co Monaghan died had been charged with the murder of Crossmaglen GAA player James Hughes (35).
He had pleaded guilty to murdering Mr Hughes and to wounding taxi driver Anthony Callan from Ardee, Co Louth, and a former girlfriend, Patricia Byrne, from Louth village, in Dundalk on Sunday, December 11th, 2011.
The report into the events found that Mr Rogers had been a high-profile prisoner whose mental health vulnerability at the time of his arrest and his committal to prison was “clearly identified”. He had expressed an intention to take his own life from the time he presented himself to gardaí at Carrickmacross on the morning of December 11th, and also told his solicitor that he intended to kill himself.
A forensic mental health team considered Mr Rogers a cause for concern because of the nature of his crime, because it was his first time in prison, because of the flagging by the court of his suicidal ideation and the publicity surrounding his case.
The inspector said he was satisfied that the assessments on Mr Rogers by the mental health team were “thorough and comprehensive”.
His vulnerability was known to prison staff at Cloverhill on December 20th, but this knowledge had not been transferred to the staff escorting Mr Rogers on that date.
The escorts are undertaken by the Prison Service Escort Corps, a standalone unit within the prison service, with a separate management team and a separate governor. The report found that the prison escort service had no system for identifying and risk-assessing prisoners transferred to its custody.
No standard operating procedure existed within the prison service covering either the definition of or the management of vulnerable prisoners.
The report said prison officers should continuously monitor those prisoners who had been assessed as presenting a significant risk of suicide or serious self-harm where such prisoners were removed from prison for any purpose, including attendance at court.
Judge Reilly also said the Irish Prison Service should advise all staff of the need for confidentiality around serious incidents affecting prisoners and that breaching this confidentiality would amount to a serious breach of discipline.
The report outlined that the Governor of Cloverhill Prison had asked one of the chaplains to call the family of the late Mr Rogers to advise them of his tragic death on December 20th 2011. When the chaplain got through to the family, however, they already knew about the death as a newspaper had contacted them.
Mr Shatter said the report was being taken seriously by the Irish Prison Service and the director general had put in place an action plan, setting specific objectives and timeframes for implementing the inspector’s recommendations.
Enhanced governance and audit arrangements would be introduced to ensure that standard operating procedures, governors’ and chiefs’ orders were implemented and all staff would be reminded of their obligations and duties.
“I have been assured by the director general that action has already been taken by prison management in relation to a number of issues,” he said.
Enhanced arrangements had already been introduced in relation to the notification of the vulnerable status of prisoners to escort staff.
"Furthermore, all vulnerable prisoners are now returned to Cloverhill Prison immediately upon completion of their court appearance," Mr Shatter said.
The report had also been sent to the Courts Service which would implement the recommendations falling under its remit.
“Having ensured the immediate putting in place of an action plan, I fully expect the recommendations contained in the report to be acted upon and all necessary steps taken to ensure the deficiencies identified by the Inspector are addressed and that such a tragic occurrence can be avoided in the future,” Mr Shatter said.