prison reports | 

Prisoner found dead in cell within two days of returning to jail after being on the run

The prisoner’s mother heard about her son’s death from another inmate, report finds
Wheatfield Prison. Photo: Colin Keegan/ Collins

Wheatfield Prison. Photo: Colin Keegan/ Collins

Seán McCárthaigh

A prisoner was found dead in his cell within two days of voluntarily returning to jail after being on the run for 11 days, according to a new report by the prison watchdog.

An investigation report by the Office of the Inspector of Prisons also revealed the prisoner’s mother learnt about her son’s death from another inmate before being officially informed by the prison authorities.

The 33-year-old male was found in an unresponsive state in his cell in Wheatfield Prison, in Clondalkin, on March 23, 2019.

He had been in prison for almost 10 years and had been transferred from Wheatfield Prison, to Shelton Abbey open prison, in November 2018 in preparation for his planned release from custody in October 2019.

However, the man absconded from the open prison on March 10, 2019 shortly after he had received a visit from three males and the day after he was subject to a prison disciplinary process for having a prohibited article in his possession in jail as well as recording a positive urine test for opiates.

After contacting the prison authorities eight days later, the prisoner was instructed to present himself at Wheatfield Prison on March 19, 2019.

However, he did not arrive at the prison until March 21, 2019.

As someone returning to prison after a period of being unlawfully at large, he was not allowed to mix with the general prisoner population and was, instead, placed in a close supervision cell (CSC) where he was subject to supervision at 15-minute intervals.

The report also revealed a prisoner officer had made entries in a log book on the night before he died to suggest he had checked on the prisoner every 15 minutes between 8pm and 7.45am when he had actually only carried out hourly checks.

The prison officer said the man’s name was not on a list he was given of prisoners who were required to be checked every 15 minutes.

The Inspector of Prisons, Patricia Gilheany, said the falsification of official prison records was a serious matter.

Ms Gilheany also observed that it was not the first time her office had identified confusion among prison staff in relation to the frequency of checks that should be carried out on prisoners being held in CSCs.

Notes prepared by a prison governor who met the prisoner on March 22, 2019 recorded that he was “calm and in good form” but had claimed that he had “messed up in Shelton” by absconding.

CCTV footage showed he was brought from his cell to a rear doorway to smoke a cigarette on the evening before he died.

Prison officers who escorted the prisoner said his mood was good and he did not appear under the influence of anything or in ill health.

However, the report found the man had not been examined by a doctor or given a preliminary medical examination by a nurse on the day of his admission, as required by Rule 11 of the prison rules.

Plastic wrappings with a brown residue were removed from the prisoner’s cell by gardaí called to attend the scene of a sudden death in prison.

The Irish Prison Service accepted seven recommendations made by the Inspector of Prisons arising out of the investigation report.

They included maintaining accurate records and putting in place appropriate controls to ensure the provisions of Rule 11 were followed, as well as ensuring compliance with standard operating procedures relating to the observation of prisoners detained in CSCs

Ms Gilheany said the IPS had provided a requested action plan for the implementation of her recommendations which would be “specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound”.

She said the cause of the man’s death was a matter for the coroner.

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