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O’Brien calls for examination of high levels of prison contraband seized

27 January, 2012 - by Jonathan O'Brien TD

O’Brien calls for examination of high levels of prison contraband seized

Sinn Féin justice spokesperson, Jonathan O’Brien TD today called on the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter TD to examine the high levels of contraband including weaponry, seized in prisons throughout the state and ensure that prisons are safe places for prisoners.

The Cork North Central TD said:
“I asked the Minister for Justice to provide me with information regarding the number of contraband items seized in prisons and the number of weapons seized from prisoners over the past number of years.
“The information which I have received is shocking, to say the least. Over the past two years, 15,076 contraband items have been confiscated including 2,787 weapons. These were homemade weapons such as pieces of perspex, sharpened toothbrushes, pool balls in socks, brush handles, water jugs and shivs.
“St Patrick’s Institution had the highest rate of weapons seizures last year, with 256 weapons confiscated.
“This is a prison which still holds 16 and 17 year olds and we have consistently said that this is an inappropriate place for children. It emphasises the urgent need to proceed with the National Children’s Detention Centre.
“The figures obtained from the minister show us that not only are Irish prisons dirty and unhygienic, overcrowded places, they are dangerous too. Mountjoy had particularly high confiscation rates in 2009 and 2010 and I welcome the drop in this figure during 2011.
“I also welcome the progress made by the Irish Prison Service in its attempts to improve security measures but I would urge the minister to turn his attention to St Patrick’s Institution as a matter of urgency.
“While there is no acceptable level of contraband seizures, a place that has had 1,625 of them over a two year period is no place for children. The figures depict dangerous places for prisoners to be in custody and dangerous places for prison staff to work in and the matter must be addressed immediately.”


Parliamentary Question Responses below.

DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Justice and Equality (Mr. Shatter)
by Deputy Jonathan O'Brien
for WRITTEN on Wednesday, 25th January, 2012.

* To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of times and the details of, contraband items which have been thrown over the walls of, or smuggled in to each of the prisons in the State during the past two years; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

- Jonathan O'Brien

One of the major challenges in prisons today lies in preventing access to contraband items, primarily mobile phones and drugs, which for obvious reasons are viewed as highly valuable commodities among elements of the prison population.

Efforts are continually made to prevent the flow of contraband into our prisons by, for example, the installation of nets over exercise yards, vigilant observation of prisoners by staff, enhanced CCTV monitoring, the stricter control of visits, and the use of prisoner and random cell searches on a daily basis. Random searches of cells and their occupants and searching of correspondence and other items have all intercepted significant quantities of contraband in recent years. Nevertheless, the Irish Prison Service recognises that constant improvements are required in this area.

The table below illustrates the total number of items seized in each prison over this timeframe. It is important to note that a large percentage of these seizures are not directly from prisoners but are instead retrieved at entry point or before they get to the prisoner population. The type of articles seized vary considerably and include mobile phones, drugs, weapons (including improvised weapons such as pieces of perspex or shivs), phone chargers, alcohol, SIM cards, cash etc. The volume of items involved and the regularity in which seizures take place highlight the continuous attempts being made by criminal elements to access prohibited articles.
Prison Total number of items seized
Arbour Hill 9
Castlerea Prison 908
Cloverhill Prison 447
Cork Prison 514
Dochas Centre 261
Limerick Prison 1,884
Loughan House 585
Midlands Prison 1,187
Mountjoy Prison 4,784
Portlaoise Prison 385
St. Patrick's Institution 1,625
Shelton Abbey 388
Training Unit 598
Wheatfield Prison 1,501
Total 15,076

The above total includes 2,787 weapons and 3,156 drug seizures.


DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Justice and Equality (Mr Shatter)
by Deputy Jonathan O'Brien
for WRITTEN on Wednesday, 25th January, 2012.

* To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of weapons which have been confiscated from prisoners in each of the prisons throughout the State during the past three years..

- Jonathan O'Brien

The information requested by the Deputy is outlined in the table below.

Prison 2009 2010 2011
Arbour Hill 001
Castlerea Prison 160 171 151
Cloverhill Prison 151 73 75
Cork Prison 66 56 96
Dochas Centre 3 16 14
Limerick Prison 78 193 122
Loughan House 2 31 4
Midlands Prison 59 83 83
Mountjoy Prison 573 460 247
Portlaoise Prison 21 17 16
St. Patrick's Institution 183 278 256
Shelton Abbey 0 1 0
Training Unit 5 9 8
Wheatfield Prison 172 111 215
Total 1,473 1, 499 1,288

The mission of the Irish Prison Service is to provide safe, secure and humane custody for those placed into custody. The reduction between 2010 and 2011 is a direct consequence of the introduction of enhanced security measures which include:

• tighter control and monitoring of prison visits;
• airport style security screening of all staff and visitors coming into the prison;
• x-ray scanners to scan all coats and bags/briefcases;
• increased random searches of prisoner accommodation and it's occupants;
• stricter searching of those committed to custody and of those returning to the prison after temporary release, court and after visits.

No level of inter-prisoner violence is acceptable and every effort is made by prison staff and management to limit the scope of acts of violence. While the prison regime is designed to limit the scope of acts of violence, it is not possible to completely eliminate the possibility of such acts in prisons holding a high proportion of violent offenders without introducing a regime that would be unacceptable.
There is also a trend towards more homemade weapons being used by prisoners, for example, weapons made out of perspex, sharpened toothbrushes, a pool ball in a sock, brush handles or water jugs, since these measures were implemented.

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