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Death is a tragic and unfortunately unavoidable aspect of life in a prison. The death of a prisoner raises significant questions in relation to the conditions of confinement and the conduct of the prison authorities. Robust investigations into these deaths can enhance accountability by shedding light on deficits in both institutional and systemic practices, as well as providing families of the deceased with a sense of closure. In Ireland, the investigative responses to prison deaths are neither robust, nor do they allow for significant scrutiny of the circumstances surrounding the death. The causes of deaths in custody and the compatibility of the ensuing investigations with international standards have not been subjected to empirical analysis in this jurisdiction. The current study attempts to address this. Using data collected from coronial inquest files in the Dublin City Coroner’s district, the causes of prisoners’ deaths were subjected to a rigorous thematic analysis. The efficacy of the inquest process and its compliance with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights were also examined. This study exposes a myriad of issues relating to both the causes of deaths and the resulting investigations. The findings highlight issues such as appropriate drug treatment strategies, deficits in medical practices, and the poor provision for family participation at the inquest proceedings. Most importantly, the research findings show that prisoners’ deaths are caused by a variety of factors, and as such there can be no ‘one size fits all’ approach to the problems.
Barry, C.: Death in Irish Prisons: An Examination of the Causes of Deaths and the Compliance of Investigations with the European Convention on Human Rights. Masters Dissertation. Dublin Institute of Technology. 2011.