Friday, September 16, 2022

Gordon Deegan

The number of prisoners who died in custody so far this year is almost double the annual figure of 2021.

Fifteen people have died in prison so far this year, compared to eight such deaths noted for all of 2021, according to figures provided by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín.

In addition to the 15 deaths in prison, one person died while on temporary release from custody earlier this year.

Among the 15 prisoners was Robert O’Connor (34), of Snowdrop Walk, Darndale, Dublin, who died in hospital last month following an attack in Mountjoy Prison.

Mr O’Connor’s death is now the subject of a murder investigation.

All deaths which occur in prison are examined by the Inspector of Prisons, which subsequently publishes a report outlining its findings and making any necessary recommendations.

Ms McEntee confirmed that since 2012, a total of 106 inmates have died in prison, with an additional 66 prisoners dying while on temporary release.

Two prisoners who were unlawfully at large also died during that period.

The annual figures show 2022 is the first year since 2015 when deaths in custody exceeded 15. Eight deaths in prison were recorded in both 2021 and 2020, while there were 14 noted in 2019 and nine in 2018.

Inquests are pending in 51 of the 106 prison deaths dating back to 2012. Where cause has been determined, suicide was indicated for 15 of the deaths. Eighteen deaths occurred due to natural causes, while misadventure was the cause determined for 11 deaths.

‘Unlawful killing’ was the cause of just one death while ‘open verdicts’ were recorded for six deaths, with narrative verdicts recorded for four deaths.

Investigation

In her written Dáil reply to Mr Tóibín, Ms McEntee said that since April 2012 all deaths in custody are also subject to an independent investigation by the Inspector of Prisons.

“Further, the Prison Service has a robust, internal review mechanism which assesses the circumstances of a death in custody, highlights accountability and actions taken in relation to the incident, and outlines lessons learnt,” Ms McEntee said.

“This outcome review is reported to the Irish Prison Service National Suicide and Harm Prevention Steering Group, which is chaired by the Director General.”

The Minister added that the circumstances of each death in custody and incident of self-harm is also examined by a suicide prevention group in each institution.

“The groups are chaired by the Prison Governor and include representatives from the various services including; Prison Doctor, Psychiatry, Psychology, Chaplaincy, Probation, Education, and Prison staff.

“The Groups are required to meet quarterly, or more often if necessary. Their examinations fully cover the background and circumstances of each death.

“Their objective is to identify, where possible, measures which might be implemented to contribute to a reduction in the risk of deaths in the future,” Ms McEntee added.

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