Jail bosses thwart bid by gang bosses to control prisons
THE head of the Prison Service says jail managers have smashed attempts by gangland bosses to take control of life behind bars.
This has resulted in a massive reduction in the number of offenders under special protection in the nation's prisons.
From a high of more than 200 a year ago, the total has now been reduced to 43 offenders being locked up in their cells for 23 hours a day because they feared for their lives.
"For the first time, the Irish Prison Service is on top of these gangs," its director general Michael Donnellan said.
"We have broken down the gangs and separated them," he disclosed during the annual conference of the Prison Officers Association in Sligo, he added.
He said the task for the service was to make the jails safer and he believed this was happening today and they were working hard to maintain that position.
He said they were telling prisoners they could offer them a safe regime, but the inmates had to come onboard and join the system.
Mr Donnellan suggested the reality was that a lot of the trouble was being imported from outside into the prisons.
"We control the prisons and control how we manage them. We don't tolerate that kind of intimidation and bullying of prisoner on prisoner," he added.
He said they now had a scheme of incentives operating at different levels and those who continued to cause trouble were handled by specialist units, who could segregate them and take them out of the general population.
In the past, they had tried to integrate some high-level criminals back into the population but where they resumed intimidation and bullying they were segregated again.
"We are not going to tolerate that. But I believe that, in time, they will come round because they are going to be in prison for a very long time."
Mr Donnellan said those criminals were facing sentences of 15 to 20 years in jail and "in five or six years time the penny will drop and they will join the system. We see this time and time again".
He added: "What we are trying to do is encourage people to come to the right side of prison life and give up the wrong side."
Mr Donnellan said all violence in a prison environment was intolerable and one assault was one too many.
"While we want to be open and developmental and rehabilitative in lots of areas, we want to bear down heavily on those involved in gratuitous violence.
"Sadly, we have a small number who have no self-restraint or control and lash out at other prisoners or officers.
"A lot of them have mental problems and no responsibility for their actions."