Zero tolerance won't solve jail's drugs problem, says ex-governor
Published 07/09/2010 | 05:00
THE former governor of Mountjoy Prison yesterday insisted a zero-tolerance approach to drugs at the jail was "not the answer" to the problem.
John Lonergan said tackling the supply and control of drugs was just one element of removing substance abuse from the prison. He said the real challenge was to tackle the root cause of addiction -- and prevent people from becoming idle and falling into a life of drugs.
The comments came after the introduction of a new "zero drugs policy" regime in the prison by the current governor Ned Whelan.
Under the plan, all avenues of bringing drugs, mobile phones, weapons and other contraband into the prison have been closed off with the introduction of stringent new measures.
This includes the installation of a €250,000 translucent net over the main yard to prevent drugs being thrown over the jail's perimeter wall.
Local residents had been plagued by drug dealers climbing on to the roofs of their homes and throwing drugs packages into the prison.
Last year, gardai arrested 75 people in one day for throwing drugs into Mountjoy.
However, speaking at the launch of Retirement Ireland 2020, Mr Lonergan said such methods did not represent a total solution to the problem.
Last night, the Irish Prison Service said the zero-tolerance approach to drug supply in the prison was only one element of its policy, and treatment and education were also critically important when dealing with drug abuse by prisoners.
Mr Lonergan said: "The real challenge for society, and not just the Prison Service, is to tackle the causes of addiction. The real challenge for society is not putting nets up in a prison or being zero tolerant in relation to the problem," he added.
"It has to be done, but it is not an answer. What we have to do is look at the causes and try to eradicate the causes."
Mr Lonergan insisted that there was a need to ensure people were occupied with tasks in prison to keep their minds off the subject of drugs.
"There is nothing as good, even in prison, as being occupied. Then people's minds are content and focused," he said.
"If you have idleness and nothing to do, and you are indicating to people that they have no value, then is it any wonder they get depressed and this leads to drugs."
Mr Lonergan who served for 42 years in the Prison Service, insisted that his comments were not an attack on the present policy at Mountjoy.
"I'm not really going to comment on what is happening in Mountjoy, every change of manager means a change of system or a change of priorities," he said.