Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

28: Prisoner escorts

Standard 28:

The health and welfare of prisoners is prioritised while they are under escort.

Rationale:

Prisoners’ rights must be protected from inhuman or degrading treatment while in prison transportation. In response to the issues observed by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) in many European jurisdictions, including overreliance on restraint, substandard basic safety requirements and unnecessarily long periods of confinement during transport,[489] the CPT published a factsheet to ensure that transportation of detainees is undertaken in a humane, safe and secure manner.[490]

Current context:

In its most recent report, the Cloverhill Prison Visiting Committee highlighted some issues related to prisoner escorts, including that many remand prisoners are collected very early in the morning and may not return until late in the evening; some may need vital medication.

On 29 November 2018, the Minister for Justice welcomed the findings of a review into prisoner escort services and announced plans to establish an oversight group to assess recommendations made and implementation of the programme.[491] IPRT welcomes the recommendation in the review, which proposes a detailed framework governing the performance of prisoner escorting services.[492] This would allow for greater accountability of prison escort services in Ireland, including monitoring of the health and welfare of prisoners.

A number of other recommendations included a review of the Criminal Procedures Bill to maximise the use of video-link to reduce the number of transfers for court hearings.[493] In its submission to the review process, IPRT highlighted that any expansion in the use of video-link conferencing must ensure participation is with the agreement of the prisoner, and that prisoners do not come under pressure from prison staff or management to waive the right to attend court.[494]

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 28

Indicator S28.1: Independent inspections of prisoner escort services.

This has not happened.

Indicator S28.2: Publication of data on escort services, including numbers, distance, frequency and reason for escort and conditions of vehicles.

There has been no publication of these data. However, the review conducted by the Department of Justice and Equality identified the potential of performance indicators.[495] Some of the indicators proposed in the review included: elapsed durations prisoners are detained within vehicles in transit without stops/breaks; and elapsed durations prisoners are detained within stationary vehicles without periods of exercise/fresh air (for example, when held at court venues which do not have any or sufficient custody facilities); as well as the overall time spent in stationary vehicles compared to the time spent in transit.

Information has also been published on the number of complaints made by prisoners about PSEC in 2018 and 2019.

Complaints made by prisoners on PSEC, 2018 and up to early June 2019 (up to June)[496]
Complaints (n.) - Issue

  • 2 - Alleged assaults on a prisoner
  • 1 - Type of food received
  • 1 - Unfair treatment
  • 1 - Duration of time a prisoner was left in the cellular van

Indicator S28.3: Introduction of a handcuffing-by-exception policy.

The introduction of a handcuffing-by-exception policy is not included in the published review by the Department of Justice and Equality. However the ‘frequency of use of handcuffing while under escort’ is outlined as a potential performance indicator.[497] According to the IPS, female prisoners, prisoners in open centres and older or ill prisoners deemed at very low risk are not handcuffed. All other prisoners are handcuffed based on risk assessment conducted at local level and in accordance with the national standard operating procedures relating to escorts.[498]

Analysis

Currently, there is no inspection of prisoner escort services in Ireland. This means little is known about the standards of health and welfare of prisoners while under escort.

Inspection of prisoner escort services is currently being considered within the context of the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill and the establishment of a NPM.

IPRT welcomes a recommendation by the Department of Justice and Equality that a detailed framework governing the performance of prisoner-escorting services should be established.[499] However, the low number of complaints related to prison escorts is of concern, considering there are upwards of 30,000 escorts every year.

With adequate resourcing, the inspection of prisoner escort services should be a function carried out by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons (OiP). The OiP should report on compliance with the prison rules,[500] which state that prisoner transport should ‘preserve his or her human dignity’.[501]

Status of Standard 28: Progress

Actions required:

Action 28.1: The Office of the Inspector of Prisons should be adequately resourced to undertake inspections of prisoner escort services.

References:

Irish Penal Reform Trust

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