Prison Gangs, Violence and Contraband still a Major Problem – Prison Officers Association

Jim Mitchell, Deputy General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association, speaking at their Annual Delegate Conference in Sligo this week said, “The numbers, motivation and behaviour of prison gangs within our prisons is a major concern for individual prison officers and this association. In our major prisons, in particular, individual prison officers must deal with threats of violence, prisoner on prisoner assaults and personal assaults on a daily basis”

Mitchell continued, “There are roughly 28 different gangs and factions operating within Mountjoy prison alone, some are well known and high profile. There are over 230 prisoners on protection within the prison, for their own safety – and this adds to the burden placed on prison staff. Not alone must we ensure the security around ongoing detention we must manage and control systems, which protect the gangs from each other and protect individuals from assaults by gang members, for various reasons”

Mitchell said, “Life in prison mirrors the practices and behaviours in wider society. The majority of prisoners just want to serve their time – and large numbers get involved in rehabilitation activities. Not so with the minority; especially those linked to the major gangs, who view time in prison as an extension of the gang culture with all the accompanying violence and control over other vulnerable people. This activity involves feuding, assaults, threats, drug and weapon smuggling and an ongoing determination to control crime and punishment on the outside”

Mitchell concluded, “This is a most serious and continuing problem, and we ask the Minister here today to put systems in place, which will reduce the impact of gangs and related violence with our prisons”

Also speaking at the conference today, POA President Tony Power said, “Over many years we have been calling for the introduction of standardised ‘Personal Protection Equipment’ (PPE) for staff, such as batons, pepper spray etc. – We welcome reference to PPE in the Irish Prison Service ‘Draft Strategy Statement 2019-2021’. The IPS is now committed to investing in standardised PPE for all staff. Let’s hope they carry out this strategy and give our members the equipment they require and most definitely deserve to ensure their safety at work.

Power continued, “In one week alone in March this year over 50 packages of contraband were either delivered by drones or thrown into the exercise yards in Wheatfield Prison. Without investment in nets for these yards the only workable interim solution is to stop prisoner exercise on Reserve period.

Much was made in the National Media 3 weeks ago on the successful prevention of contraband entering Castlerea Prison by drone. In March of this year staff successfully prevented another such attempt in Mountjoy Prison. A prison service spokesperson, as quoted in the Irish Times said, (“the Irish Prison Service is exploring a number of technology options to deal with this problem”). I ask what options are these and how soon can we expect them to be rolled out in our prisons? I hope we are not waiting as long for the solution here as we have been for the introduction of mobile phone blockers

Power concluded, “The danger linked to these incidents is unquantifiable Prison Officers, as officers will put their own Health and Safety at risk in an effort to retrieve this contraband. Up until 2014 our canine unit had the facility to use Patrol Dogs in such situations but some genius decided that staff in blue shirts would be more effective than these highly trained dogs”