Five criminals selected to become first inmates of country's new high-security jail unit
A high security jail unit will be open from next week with the ultimate aim of dramatically reducing the number of seriously violent attacks in the nation's prisons.
Five criminals have been selected to become the first inmates of the new unit, which represents a revolutionary change in the way the authorities tackle violent prisoners.
The five are regarded as posing the "biggest challenge" to the safety of the prisons as a result of their involvement in assaults on staff and other inmates, which has led to them being branded the most dangerous behind bars.
Four of them will be transferred from isolation units in other prisons while the fifth is currently being treated in the central mental hospital in Dundrum in south Dublin.
The new national violence reduction unit is based in the Midlands prison in Portlaoise.
It has been built at a cost of €2.7m and it also has the capacity to hold a further four prisoners for assessment while a tenth cell will be kept in reserve for a crisis.
The main focus of the specially trained staff will be to create an environment that allows them to build up one-on-one relationships with individual prisoners and prepare them to cope with their release back into the community.
A committee was set up to select the five out of the overall prison population of 3,900.
None of the five is a member of a gang but all have a propensity for violence and disruptive behaviour.
The group does not include anybody serving a life sentence.
It is understood they include Alan Ellis (25), who is serving six years for torturing a 14-year-old boy, whom he tied to a radiator with a piece of flex, poured boiling water down his trousers and attacked him with a cheese grater.
Also destined for the unit is Dubliner Leon Wright (29), who has more than 100 criminal convictions, been disciplined over 200 times while in prison and involved in attacks on 25 jail staff.
Also expected to be in the special unit is Brendan Cummins, who has carried out at least a dozen assaults in prison including an attack on an assistant governor, who was repeatedly punched in an exercise yard at Cloverhill and on two other staff members in Mountjoy and the Midlands jails.
Those to be housed in the unit have previously been detained in isolation units and because of their violent behaviour they are dealt with by staff, who wear full riot gear and form a block with shields when escorting them from their cell to other parts of the prison for visits or appointments.
In their new Midlands home they will be handled by staff, who show their faces and are not armed with any protective equipment, apart from batons, which are hidden from view.
Instead of policies being determined solely by operational needs, with subsequent consultations with medical experts, the unit will be co-managed by psychologists and prison authorities.
Dr Emma Black, who is head of psychology in the Irish Prison Service, said they hoped to help the prisoners with understanding the reasons why they resorted to violence while also preparing them for a return to the community when they had completed their sentence.
The plan is to expose them to some sort of normality by interacting with others while also teaching them how to cope.
One expert said: "Many of these prisoners don't know how to boil an egg, bake a potato or even put a pizza in the oven and we want to help them with simple skills that most people take for granted."
If the inmates show improved behaviour, they will eventually be allowed access to a recreation room, which has a kitchen, table and chairs, bolted to the floor, as well as a beanbag and a playstation.
They also have their own exercise yard, which is monitored by CCTV cameras.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, who visited the unit yesterday, said the aim was to reduce the risk of violence to staff and to other prisoners while also cutting risks to the community while director general of the Irish Prison Service, Michael Donnellan said previous policies on tackling violent prisoners had not worked.
He said the creation of the new unit had been three years in planning and it represented best international practice.
Opening the new unit, Mr Flanagan welcomed the use of body worn cameras for staff in the unit on a trial basis and said he hoped to see the measure rolled out throughout the prison service.
He repeated his support for body cameras for gardai and said talks were currently under way with garda representative groups and they now had to seek the resources to fund the move.
He said the unit represented a new approach, which would be achieved by meeting each prisoner's complex needs, through improving their psychological health, their wellbeing and their behaviour in a centre of excellence, operated by highly motivated, highly trained and highly competent staff.