Saturday 3 December 2016

From the prison yard to farmyard for inmates on learning curve

Published 24/12/2015 | 02:30

Noirin Keary with a rocking horse Photo: Steve Humphreys
Noirin Keary with a rocking horse Photo: Steve Humphreys
Operational governor Patrick Kavanagh Photo: Steve Humphreys
The workshop Photo: Steve Humphreys
A pet rabbit Photo: Steve Humphreys

Ronnie and Reggie Kray, Rocky Balboa, and Bonnie and Clyde are five of the most popular names in Wheatfield Place of Detention in west Dublin - but it's not the prisoners that are named after these streetwise gangsters and movie heroes. Rather, they're the names given to the prison's five pet pigs who live on the campus.

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The pigs are part of a mini-farm which the prisoners have full responsibility for, and which also includes ducks, birds, chickens, fish and rabbits.

Animals are now very much part of the Irish prison system as they are therapeutic for the prisoners, Wheatfield's operational governor Patrick Kavanagh explained.

"It is just so good for [the prisoners'] mood to be working with animals. They are very prevalent in the prison system. Shelton Abbey and Loughan House [two open prisons] have farms," Mr Kavanagh said.

When the Irish Independent visited Wheatfield earlier this month, there were 467 prisoners behind bars, 70 of these serving life sentences.

Governor Kavanagh operates a "fair" regime in the prison, which first opened its doors in 1989.

Along with his team of colleagues, he introduced a weapons amnesty programme in 2012. And, assaults using weapons have dropped there by 95pc.

"I went around to every landing, workshop and class to get everyone. I told them clearly, 'We have a problem, it is very dangerous here'."

The amnesty was first held in June that year and has been run sporadically since when required. Safe bins in which to deposit weapons were placed in areas where they were no cameras, to offer prisoners anonymity in return for their cooperation.

Such was the success of the programme, chiefs in the Irish Prison Service (IPS) are now understood to be considering rolling out the scheme in other institutions.

The working and training prison offers inmates the opportunity to participate in classes and workshops. In return for cooperation and participation, prisoners can enjoy more frequent visits and phone calls.

"Every prisoner that comes in here starts off as standard. If they engage in services - psychology, probation, addiction services and education - they can move up to an enhanced level," Mr Kavanagh said.

Among the benefits of being at the enhanced level is two phone calls per day.

However, if an inmate chooses not to "engage fully and meaningfully", they can be moved back down to basic level. "That's three phone calls a week, it means their accommodation isn't as good and it means they have to work their way back up," Mr Kavanagh explained.

"Equally, if they look for any concessions within the prison system, we don't accede to them. The idea is that you have to work for anything you have in here."

The farm is part of the prison's work and training programme.

Inmates are also offered the opportunity to participate in workshops which include joinery, welding, construction and picture framing. They regularly build ornate dolls houses and intricate rocking horses for charity, and every course run there has an accredited qualification.

The prison also operates a laundry and inmates clean laundry from the adjoining prison, Cloverhill. They get bread from Mountjoy where a bakery is in operation.

Five chefs in the kitchen are currently training up to 20 prisoners. Sugar crafts have become popular and inmates have made Peppa Pig, Super Mario and minion-decorated novelty cakes.

"One of the staff down there is very good at the sugar crafts. So he said, 'I'll show them'. That's very popular now," Noirin Keary, Wheatfield's industrial manager, said.

Brenda Fitzpatrick is the head teacher in the detention centre's educational unit. Inmates all have the opportunity to attend classes, and the school offers a number of courses and exams, which include the Junior and Leaving Certificates.

"We have students here who would be full-time and others who might come one day a week because they are enrolled in engaging with work and training also," Ms Fitzpatrick said

One student, who staff described as a star pupil, revealed that he has done two stints behind bars though he is just 29 years old.

He now wants to work in first aid when he is released.

"When I was in other prisons, I hadn't got an education," he said. "I arrived in Wheatfield in 2013 and I started my education here.

"I am going to my cell tired because I am doing a lot of work. I have put in an awful lot here the last few years. I am not thinking about crime."

Irish Independent

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