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22: Complaints system

Standard 22:

Prisoners have access to a robust and effective complaints mechanism. All complaints are dealt with in a timely manner with the outcome of decisions clearly communicated to the prisoner with a satisfactory resolution if the complaint is upheld.


Having access to a robust and effective complaints mechanism is of particular importance for individuals detained in closed institutions. A number of barriers to prisoners making complaints have been identified including: the absence of an effective complaints system, the slow nature of complaints procedures and response mechanisms, feelings that the problems faced in prison are inevitable, distrust in the complaints system, feelings of shame, fear of reprisal and absence of legal safeguards. [512]

Current context:

The Irish Prison Service is currently working on a new internal complaints process for prisoners, including a complaints recording system.[513] The new complaints policy is informed by the recommended complaints procedure [514] made by the Inspector of Prisons in 2016. [515] It was originally expected that this would be completed by end of 2017. [516]

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 22

Indicator S22.1: Data on the number of internal complaints, in particular Category A complaints (upheld, resolved and dismissed), including the length of time it takes to complete and communicate outcomes of a decision to a prisoner:

Prison: No. of ‘Category A’ Complaints made in 2017 [517] Minimum No. Days: [518] Maximum No. Days: [519]
Arbour Hill 1 45 45
Castlerea 9 42 222
Cloverhill 12 0 144
Cork 5 64 108
Limerick 3 115 194
Midlands 15 17 333
Mountjoy 9 13 108
Portlaoise 6 44 152
Wheatfield 4 71 181
Year[520] No of Category A[521] Complaints Received Investigation Completed Ongoing Unfounded Withdrawn Re-categorised
2017 70 61 0 8 0 1
2018 (1.1.18–26.6.18) 41 12 22 3 4 0
Year[522] Investigation Completed Upheld Not Upheld Not Proved Part Upheld
2017 61 6 53 0 2
2018 12 1 9 2 0

Since the publication of the above, recent data has been released to the Irish Times [523] showing that in total there have been 47 ‘Category A’ complaints made in 2018. Twenty-one were allegations of assault, three related to alleged racist incidents, six were claims of mistreatment and five were complaints of intimidation. Of these 47 complaints, only one has been upheld. Sixteen complaints were ‘not upheld’, two were ‘not proved’, three were ‘terminated’ and five were ‘withdrawn.’ The investigations relating to 20 allegations are described as ‘incomplete’.

Overall analysis shows that very few complaints are upheld. This may be attributed to a number of reasons including insufficient evidence and unwilling witnesses. It could also indicate either complaints being unfounded or poor investigations. This may result in prisoners having a lack of confidence in the complaints system.

In 2017, the Office of the Ombudsman [524] was involved in the redevelopment of the complaint- handling system, including facilitating a visit by an official from the Irish Prison Service to the Prisoner Ombudsman of Northern Ireland to provide an overview of how local complaints systems work between the Northern Ireland Prison Service and the Office of the Prisoner Ombudsman. [525]

There is an urgent need for reform of the complaints system, in particular of external oversight, which is discussed in the next standard.

Actions required:

Action 22.1: The Irish Prison Service must ensure that prisoners receive the outcome of their complaints within a three-month period. The outcome should address the complaint and the reasons for the outcome, and provide a solution if the complaint was upheld.
Action 22.2: The Department of Justice and Equality and the Irish Prison Service should introduce a new internal complaints policy with a view to bringing Ireland’s complaints system in line with best practice.