Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

24: Inspections and monitoring (2019)

Standard 24:

Structures are in place for the regular inspection and monitoring of prisons. Inspection reports are made publicly available within a clear timeframe.


Monitoring and inspection of places of detention is central to the protection of human rights of prisoners. Independent monitoring bodies are an important feature in the prevention of torture and ill-treatment.

Current context:

Ratification of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT)

As of July 2019, 90 State Parties have ratified OPCAT, of which 71 have designated their national preventive mechanism (NPM).[435] Ireland is one of the last three remaining European countries yet to ratify OPCAT,[436] despite having signed the treaty in October 2007.[437]

The Department of Justice and Equality has been preparing legislation [the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill], which will ratify OPCAT and introduce an NPM.[438] The general scheme of the Bill was expected to be brought before Government before the end of 2018.[439] However, this did not happen.

In April 2019, the Minister stated that this scheme would be circulated for comments to stakeholders ‘as soon as possible’, and the scheme is intended to be finalised for formal drafting this year.[440] IPRT is clear that the minimum legislative requirements for any legislation to ratify OPCAT should set out the independence, functions and members/staff of the NPM.[441] The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has put itself forward as the NPM co-ordinator, which IPRT welcomes.[442]

Office of the Inspector of Prisons (OiP)

In relation to domestic inspections centrally focusing on the prison system, while a new OiP was appointed in May 2018, there has been no prison inspection report published since then.

Concerns have been raised around the resourcing of the OiP.[443] In June 2019, the Minister for Justice and Equality stated that he had approved the awarding of a contract in relation to an inspection framework and strategic plan for the Office of the Inspector of Prisons.[444] The development of an Inspection Framework is welcome, aimed at allowing for more robust prison inspections.

Prison Visiting Committees

The Prison (lay) Visiting Committee system continues to operate; however, with a large number of vacancies across 10 of the 12 Committees (see Indicator S24.3). The most recent report by Cloverhill Prison Visiting Committee (2019) highlighted its concerns:

However we express our serious concern at the dwindling numbers of the Visiting Committee in Cloverhill. The Committee currently stand at three and two present members finish their term of office in early May.

There continues to be a significant time delay on the publication of Visiting Committee reports;[445] the most recently published reports in March 2019 relate to prison conditions during 2017.

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 24

Indicator S24.1: The State’s ratification of OPCAT and establishment of an NPM.

Ireland has not ratified OPCAT. There have been further delays in progressing the relevant legislation [Inspection of Places of Detention Bill], which is required to establish a NPM.

Indicator S24.2: Frequency of publication of OiP reports.

There have been no published prison inspections reports since May 2017;[446] prior to that, the last published inspection report of a closed prison was September 2014.[447]

Based on the combined information available on the OiP and Department of Justice and Equality’s website, the table below presents the number of prison inspection reports published since 2008.

Prison inspection reports published since 2008

Year Report
2008 Inspection of Loughan House
2009 Inspection of Castlerea Prison
Inspection of Mountjoy Prison
2010 No inspection reports
2011 Inspection of Mountjoy Prison
2012 Inspection of Limerick Prison
First follow-up inspection of Limerick Prison
Second follow-up inspection of Limerick Prison
Inspection of Arbour Hill Prison
Inspection of St. Patrick’s Institution
2013 Interim report on the Dóchas Centre

Inspection of Loughan House Open Centre
An overview of Mountjoy Prison Campus with particular emphasis on the Separation Unit [448]

2015 No inspection reports
2016 No inspection reports
2017 Report on an Inspection of the Training Unit, 2017
2018 No inspection reports
2019 No inspection reports

It appears that from 2008 to 2019, six prisons (Cork, Wheatfield, Cloverhill, Midlands, Portlaoise and Shelton Abbey) were not subject to a published prison inspection report.

Indicator S24.3: Reform of Prison Visiting Committees:

There has been no reform of Prison Visiting Committees. In 2019, the Minister outlined that the role of these committees will be considered in the context of the drafting of the General Scheme of the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill.[449]

Under the Prison (Visiting Committees) Act 1925, each Committee should have between six and 12 members. Currently, there are a number of vacancies on the majority of Prison Visiting Committees, as shown in the table below.

No. of members and current vacancies on Prison Visiting Committees

Prison Members Vacancies
Arbour Hill 5 1
Castlerea 5 1
Cloverhill 3 3
Cork 5 1
Dóchas 4 2
Limerick 4 2
Loughan House 2 4
Midlands 6 0
Mountjoy 5 1
Portlaoise 6 0
Shelton Abbey 5 1
Wheatfield 4 2
Total 54 18


Monitoring and inspection is essential to the protection and promotion of human rights anywhere that people can be deprived of their liberty.

Ireland’s progress on the development of an NPM and ratification of OPCAT lags behind the rest of Europe. However, IPRT welcomes that the IHREC has expressed an interest in the co-ordinating role of the NPM.

The lack of published inspection reports by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons throughout the years may impact on its perceived effectiveness. The Office needs greater resourcing in order to meet its remit, including publishing inspection reports, deaths in custody reports and undertaking regular thematic reviews. The Minister for Justice and Equality has committed to enhancing the resources and capacity of the office.[453]

Reform of the Prison Visiting Committees is required,[454] including principles, composition, and recruitment, selection and training processes. Prison Visiting Committees could replicate a ‘citizens’ convention model’, and be comprised of randomly selected citizens.[455] The quality and standardisation of reports should also be enhanced; for example, in England and Wales, ‘independent monitoring boards’ (IMB) have developed their own monitoring framework,[456] and reports are more timely.[457] The IMB annual report examines key thematic issues affecting the entire prison estate.

Status of Standard 24: No change

Progressive Practice:

Norwegian Parliamentary Ombudsman

In its annual report for 2018, the Norwegian Parliamentary Ombudsman details prison conditions in Norwegian prisons, including lengthy lock-up hours.[450] The institutions visited are given a deadline for informing the Ombudsman about their follow-up on recommendations.[451] The follow up is published on the Ombudsman’s website.

Independent Monitoring Boards

Independent monitoring boards (IMB) in England and Wales provide a more detailed description and a standardised approach in the monitoring of prisons. There is a clear statement of purpose and monitoring framework set out for IMBs, which promotes a consistency of approach.[452]

The key areas for monitoring include: safety of the establishment; fairness of prisoner treatment; accommodation; management of the daily regime; communication and consultation; healthcare; entitlements; education and training; and preparation for release. The framework also outlines the importance of monitoring skills such as observation, listening, interpretation and recording. IMBs form part of the NPM in England and Wales.

Actions required:

Action 24.1: The inspection framework and strategic plan for the Office of the Inspector of Prisons should be published by the first quarter of 2020.
Action 24.2: The Office of the Inspector of Prisons should be adequately resourced to undertake an annual programme of prison inspections, with reports published within 18 weeks of inspections being carried out.
Action 24.3: The Department of Justice and Equality should progress reform of Prison Visiting Committees as part of the work on developing an NPM. Appointment of members, training and the standard of reporting should be reviewed, followed by a recruitment campaign by the Public Appointments Service. A monitoring framework should also be established in order to achieve consistency of approach by all Prison Visiting Committees.


Irish Penal Reform Trust


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