A vulnerable prisoner found suspended from a ligature in his cell last year had two appointments to see a psychiatrist cancelled shortly before his death due to a lack of prison staff.
A new report by the Inspector of Prisons (IoP) into the death of a 24-year-old Polish national at Cork Prison on January 15th 2022 heard he had no history of mental health issues but was upset about the incident which resulted in his incarceration.
As a result of its investigation into the death of the man, identified only as Mr C, the IoP has called on the Irish Prison Service to ensure healthcare appointments for prisoners are not cancelled because prison staff are unavailable to escort them.
The prisons watchdog said the availability of escort prison staff was particularly critical for referrals to psychiatric in-reach clinics and any cancelled appointment should be rescheduled “as a matter of urgency.”
It recommended that the necessary staffing resources for accompanying prisoners to such clinics should be “ring-fenced” in the Regime Management Plans of all prisons in Ireland.
The IoP revealed the prisoner had engaged in an act of self-harm as he was being brought from Bandon District Court to the local garda station.
Mr C was referred by a prison nurse to a psychiatric clinic on both December 28 and December 29, 2021 but both visits were cancelled due to a lack of prison staff to escort the prisoner.
The report showed that another referral was made for Mr C to see a psychiatrist on January 17th 2022.
It also highlighted how a prison doctor had claimed there was a backlog of patients attending psychiatric clinics due to an absence of prison officers to escort prisoners.
Mr C’s family claimed he and his girlfriend had been seriously assaulted by their neighbours which resulted in him receiving over 100 stitches.
They said the deceased had used pepper spray on his assailants in order to protect his girlfriend.
Mr C’s mother said her son, who came to Ireland in 2017 to join his brother, was afraid in prison as he had never been in trouble before.
He had been moved to a cell on his own for protection as a relative of his assailants was also in custody in Cork Prison.
The report noted that Mr C’s family did not believe he should have been in custody and were annoyed that his attackers had retained their freedom.
They also told the IoP that they believed he had been treated more harshly by the courts because he was not Irish.
Mr C was remanded in prison on December 6, 2021 in relation to the incident and was sentenced to four months in prison by Bandon District Court on January 7th 2022.
He was also facing another court appearance on January 20th 2022 on further charges in relation to the use of pepper spray.
The report revealed he had spoken to his pregnant girlfriend by phone for over 4.5 minutes just after midnight on January 15th, 2022.
Just over an hour later, he was found suspended from a ligature in his cell by prison staff who unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate him.
The IoP found Mr C had expressed suicidal thoughts during the call to his girlfriend and was anxious about his upcoming court case.
The inspector, who examined the content of the recorded call, said Mr C had admitted that thoughts of those who assaulted him being free was driving him “crazy” and he was expecting a prison sentence of a few years for assaulting them.
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The IoP said it did not have access to two notes that were found in the prisoner’s cell.
In a 16-page report, the inspector said prison staff should keep records of any healthcare appointments for prisoners that are cancelled due to acute staff shortages or other operational reasons.
In response to the report, the IPS said it accepted a series of recommendations by the prisons watchdog.
The IPS said it was considering how to ensure prisoners were seen by relevant clinicians during times of staff shortages and would revert back to the IoP once the process had been completed.