Tuesday 20 August 2019

50 packages of drugs and contraband dropped by drone into Irish prison in one week

Calls have been made for nets to be put over prison exercise yard

Wheatfield Prison
Wheatfield Prison
Conor Feehan

Conor Feehan

Fifty packages of drugs and other contraband were thrown or delivered by drone to Wheatfield Prison in one week in March, according to the general secretary of the Irish Prison Officers’ Association.

Speaking at its annual conference in Sligo, John Clinton called for nets to be put over the exercise yards because prison officers are facing very challenging situations trying to retrieve the packages while surrounded by a lot of prisoners.

“There was huge fanfare made in the media three weeks ago when a number of drones were caught outside Castlerea Prison and in the Irish Prison Service recent strategy statement that they intend to bring in technological answers to this problem,” said Mr Clinton.

“We don't know what these are so we are asking the Minister what are these technological solutions to this problem, because we heard of technological solutions to mobile phones by using phone blockers going back many years, and it never happened,” he added.

“You put the net over the exercise yard. I understand you can't put it over the whole prison, they know where these persons are being delivered to, that's the area you target with the netting,” Mr Clinton suggested as a solution.

“Another effect is that prisoners are not allowed to go out for their evening recreation after deliveries like this come in, which means those in prisons who are not involved in drugs are being victimised as well. The prison system should also be there for those who want to be helped,” he added.

A drone and drugs were intercepted outside Castlerea Prison in Co Roscommon (Niall Carson/PA)
A drone and drugs were intercepted outside Castlerea Prison in Co Roscommon (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Clinton also addressed smoking in prisons, where prisoners are allowed to smoke.

“The problem is we are prison officers, we have lungs the same as everyone else and we suffer the same health issues are everyone else. The smoking ban was introduced into the workplace 15 years ago. People said it wouldn't work in pubs and other public places, it has worked and being maintained,” he said.

“It is possible at the moment and there are clear examples of smoke free prisons across Europe. The management is aware of them, we are aware of them. It's 15 years now since that smoking ban was introduced and we want that introduced and we want the same health and safety protection that every other employee in this state is currently enjoying,” he added.

Jim Mitchell, the POA deputy general secretary, said there is an assault from a prisoner on a staff member on average once a week in Mountjoy Prison.

“We find that this is intolerable. Over the years we've looked for a specific violence reduction unit. Thankfully it has recently been introduced in the Midlands Prison, there is one National Violence Reduction Unit there,” he said.

“Unfortunately, from our perspective, that only deals with ten prisoners maximum at any particular time. We believe there should be a Violence Reduction Unit in every closed prison in the State because there are more that ten violent prisoners within the system,” he explained.

“When you get a gang leader into prison it exacerbates the problem because they are trying to exert a degree of control to the prisons. There is competition from them trying to get higher up the pecking order which inevitably involves violence and inevitably involves our people having to put themselves in harm's way to actually go and deal with it,” he added.

“From our perspective the gang culture isn't going away any time soon. There are in and around 19 factions in Mountjoy alone. There is something like eight on one particular landing in the Midlands, and this is reflected across the entire system. It’s something that isn't going away. We do believe there is a need to totally isolate the bigger groups of gangs in one complete and total isolated system,” Mr Mitchell explained.

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