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PRILA Briefing Paper 3: Experiencing Oversight: Prison Staff's Experience of Inspection and Complaints

Experiencing Oversight: Prison Staff's Experience of Inspection and Complaints.

The PRILA project looks to understand the role of prison oversight from a variety of perspectives including prisoners, prison staff, and oversight personnel. Understanding the perspective of prison staff, and prison management in particular, is vitally important as they are the means by which the consequences of oversight become actionable in prison.

Between November 2018 and November 2019, Sarah Curristan conducted research with senior staff and frontline staff across all Irish prisons in a study that was the first of its kind. The objectives of this research were to explore: the culture of accountability within the Irish Prison Service; attitudes towards inspection, monitoring, and complaints; and how oversight can be used to support prison work. Using a combination of interview and survey methods, this research explored staff’s experiences with the prisoner complaints system, the Office of the Inpsector of Prison, and the Coucil of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

The findings of this research explore views on accountability and responding to oversight in the prison context. Within the organisation there is broad agreement that accountability is necessary, however there are many different perspectives as to why this is the case. In relation to specific mechanisms of oversight, the prevailing attitude towards the complaints system among staff is quite negative, with concerns raised regarding staff trust, perceived misuse of the system, and a lack of resources for handling complaints. Towards inspection and monitoring bodies, staff demonstrate mixed attitudes. Concerns were raised regarding lack of engagement and awareness with inspection and monitoring bodies, a lack of clarity of process, and a failure to recognise positive developments within prison. The key findings identified in this research have been summarised in this briefing paper entitled, ‘Experiencing Oversight: Prison Staff’s Experience of Inspection and Complaints’.

Results from this research were also shared with staff at an online seminar with staff at the Irish Prison Service, entitled ‘PRILA: Oversight & Irish Prisons’ which took place in November 2020.

The researcher, Sarah Curristan, would like to sincerely thank all participants who took the time to take part in this research.

Download the Briefing Paper here

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