Crackdown on drugs sparks furious protest by prisoners
Published 27/07/2010 | 05:00
A CRACKDOWN on the smuggling of drugs and mobile phones into the country's biggest prison has sparked a furious backlash from inmates.
More than 200 prisoners in two wings of Mountjoy Prison staged a protest against the tougher measures by refusing to return to their cells for over an hour at the weekend.
They were eventually persuaded by staff to call off their action as other officers clad in riot gear were put on standby. However, these officers were not used by the authorities.
The action is expected to be the start of a series of protests as staff prepare for what they call a long hot summer in the Victorian prison.
The supply of drugs into the jail has already been reduced since a stricter regime was implemented by new governor Ned Whelan, who has moved to Mountjoy from the top security jail in Portlaoise.
Mr Whelan replaced the long-serving governor John Lonergan, who retired from the prison service in May.
Another major initiative is being introduced by Mr Whelan this week. It will involve the erection of horizontal security netting enclosing the four exercise yards to stop packages and drug-filled tennis balls being hurled over the perimeter walls to the inmates.
At the moment, the yards are protected by vertical meshing and gardai deploy regular patrols along the banks of the nearby Royal Canal to stop the drug slingshots.
The erection of the heavy netting to seal off the yards is seen as a key move in cutting the supply. It will back up other security measures that are already proving to be effective in combating the smuggling and leading to more seizures.
The cost of the netting project is expected to be in excess of €200,000.
The stand-off on the prison's C and D wings on Saturday is believed to be linked to this week's planned initiative but it is also thought to be connected to complaints by some prisoners about not being allowed direct access to their families during visits.
A number of inmates, who come under suspicion by staff handling the jail's drug dog, are refused physical contact if there are indications that they could have been involved in accepting drugs or other contraband from visitors in the past.
Instead, they have to agree to receive visits behind a screen and in controlled circumstances.
Prison officials last night said nobody was injured in Saturday's incident and staff were able to put the protesters back into their cells without calling in the assistance of their colleagues, who are trained in control and restraint techniques.
In 2009 there were a total of 547 drug seizures in Mountjoy. Staff have made 364 seizures during the first five months of this year.
The authorities have also brought in a database on visitors to all prisons -- the number of which is expected to exceed two million this year.
Visitors are being told they must book their times in advance and provide identification on each trip.
Last year prison officers recorded more than 2.2 million visitors to the prisons, including 615,000 to Mountjoy.