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Overcrowding, attacks in prisons ‘getting worse’

The Prison Officers Association (POA) has said that the problems in the prison service with overcrowding, drug abuse, attacks on prison officers and drug trafficking are getting worse.

The POA says drug dealers are now using drones to fly drugs into the prison while the nets at three prisons designed to stop them have fallen down.

The President of the Association has also said that there has been a 25% increase in prisoners in custody over the past five years with levels of overcrowding at unsafe and unacceptable levels.

Tony Power accused the Minister for Justice and the Director General of ignoring their concerns and continually failing to address these issues.

Prison Officers said that there are more than 1,000 more prisoners in the country’s jails since 2019, but the number of additional spaces has only increased by 43.

The Prison Officers Associations said the Midlands prison has 100 more prisoners than it has space for, Clover Hill prison has 70, Cork prison – the country’s newest – has 52 prisoners sleeping on the floor, while Mountjoy prison with 845 prisoners has seen a 25% rise in the last five years.

In one wing at Castlerea prison, every single cell is doubled up with another ten inmates sleeping on the floor.

The POA has also said that the overcrowding situation is as bad for women in prison.

Originally designed for 85 inmates, The Dochas Centre has 175 inmates with women being accommodated in offices and locker rooms that were never designed to be cells. In Limerick’s female prison wing, 15 women are sleeping on camp beds.

It also said that overall the number of people in custody is about to reach 5,000.

The President of the Prison Officers Association has described the levels of overcrowding as unsafe and unacceptable.

Tony Power said that their attempts to highlight this issue have consistently fallen on deaf ears, “nothing happens” he said, “and this is a disgrace”.

He said the Minister for Justice and the Director General seem to think prison officers “can just put inmates somewhere and get on with it” and accused them of “directly contributing to an unsafe and unworkable environment” by not properly planning for the future.

He also said in an overcrowded system, without adequate access to services, management were hindering the good work of prison officers and impacting directly on the potential rehabilitation of prisoners.

The association has criticised a plan to put modular homes which house one inmate in three jails as costly and ineffective. It said that the proposal to put ten homes each in Loughan House, Shelton Abbey and Castlerea prisons would cost over €12 million.

The Deputy General Secretary said at a cost of €400,000 per home, it would be cheaper to build each inmate a house.

Prison officers have also said that the nets at Clover Hill, Wheatfield and Mountjoy designed to stop drones and drugs smuggling fell down in the snow fall last month and have not been repaired.

Drugs are now being thrown into the prisons and delivered by drones, often to the inmates cell. The officers said that fish hooks are attached to the drugs packages which enables prisoners to retrieve them.

The POA said there has been no plan to deal with the drones delivering drugs and officers at one stage resorted to throwing sweeping brushes at them.

The Deputy General Secretary also said that violence in the prison has increased significantly. Gabriel Keaveny said restraints, attacks on officers and on prisoners increased by 140% in three years from 376 in 2020, to 891 last year.

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