THE Irish Prison Service (IPS) has opened an investigation into the conduct of one of its governors after his appeal for leniency on behalf of a prisoner was criticised by the Central Criminal Court.
In an attempt to influence the sentencing of a prisoner, Gerry Baxter, assistant governor of the Dóchas Centre women's prison, requested in writing "any leniency that could be afforded" for a defendant linked to a murder trial.
Judge Paul Carney described the request as "deeply offensive" to the victim's family. It is not the role of the Irish Prison Service to advocate on behalf of certain prisoners, Carney said.
The incident occurred during last week's sentencing of Sinead Geraghty, who assisted Stephen Penrose in disposing of the body of David Sharkey, who Penrose killed in a failed robbery attempt.
Penrose was originally charged with murder but convicted of manslaughter last July and sentenced to nine years. Geraghty (24), of Parkview, Blackcastle, Navan, Co Meath, pleaded guilty to assisting an offender and was jailed for five years last Monday.
During the hearing Carney criticised the assistant governor for attempting to influence his decision. The IPS confirmed that the content of a report on the prisoner submitted to the court was "wholly inappropriate" and an investigation was underway. Carney said it "must be at least highly offensive to the Sharkey family".
"It's not the function of the prisons to engage in advocacy," he said, adding that the prison service "shouldn't advocate in the case of some prisoners".
A statement issued by the IPS said: "The Irish Prison Service can confirm that following a request from the court the assistant governor issued a report to the presiding judge in relation to the prisoner in question.
"In his report the assistant governor did appeal for leniency for the prisoner. The Irish Prison Service acknowledges that this was wholly inappropriate and the matter is currently being investigated."
After the hearing Ann Sharkey, the victim's mother, said she did not feel her family had received justice for the crime, although she was not referring to the governor's request for leniency.
She also lost a second son to violent crime in 2005.
"Our family as a group have been unable to bear the burden of two such tragic losses," she said. "Myself and my husband feel that it is no longer worth living our lives. We feel that we are living a life sentence ourselves and we are unable to break free from it."
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