The Irish Prison Service has announced a review of its security procedures following allegations a solicitor was told she had to remove her bra to gain entry to a prison.
This will include a review of “policies, procedures and training for staff” to ensure people are treated in “a proper, fair and impartial manner, while at all times remaining courteous and sensitive”, it said, adding that it is not prison policy to require visitors to remove undergarments.
Meanwhile, the governing body for the solicitors profession said it has raised concerns recently about security protocols in prisons that affect women lawyers.
On Monday, it was reported a female solicitor was instructed by prison officers to remove her bra if she wanted access to her client as it was setting off a security sensor.
In a formal complaint to the Irish Prison Service (IPS), the solicitor said she had been “subject to a degrading incident” at Cloverhill Prison in Dublin on June 11th, 2020.
“Not only did I feel extremely vulnerable and targeted as a woman, I felt humiliated that my dignity had been so casually torn from me,” she said in the complaint reported by the Irish Examiner.
The solicitor said she had “no option other than to comply with their condition on my entry” because the visit concerned urgent bail proceedings.
On Tuesday the IPS said revised security screening protocols were introduced for visitors at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.
This meant between March 15th and June 30th, 2020, pat-down searches could not be carried out due to infection risks.
“Persons activating the walk-through metal detector during this time period were given the opportunity to reschedule their visit. At all times during this unprecedented health crisis the health and safety of our prisoners, staff and visitors have been of the utmost importance.”
After June 20th, 2020, the IPS reverted to previous security screening arrangements.
“The objective of security screening at point of entry is to deter and prevent the entry of contraband into prisons.”
It said it does this through the use of walk-through and hand-held metal detectors, narcotic swabbing, X-rays of outer clothing and drug-sniffer dogs.
Visitors have three chances to walk through the metal detector before a handheld device is used. A pat down will only be used if staff still cannot find the item setting off the alarm or in other limited circumstances such as intelligence-led searches.
It said it is not IPS policy “to request any person to remove under garments in order to gain admittance to a prison” and that it does not condone behaviour which “may put at risk the rights of people to be treated with dignity and respect”.
Allegations of inappropriate behaviour by staff are taken very seriously, it said. And any visitor who has encountered such behaviour can make a written complaint.
The Law Society, which represents and governs the country’s 20,000 solicitors, said it could not comment on any individuals or incidents. However, it said it has raised issues with the IPS in the past about the impact of security protocols on women solicitors.