Prison officers now placing 'colour coded cards' on cell doors because of gang violence threat
Managing prisoners from different gang factions is now so complex that prison officers are having to place coloured cards on some cell doors to differentiate which inmates can be held together and which have to be separated.
Speaking at the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) conference in Galway yesterday, its assistant general secretary Gabriel Keaveney said the number of prisoners on protection is rising all the time and getting increasingly problematic.
“At the moment they're all in different locations. In some cases it gets so problematic that you have to put a different colour card outside their door. So, the reds can mix with the blues and not the yellows. The greens are ok with the blues and not the rest. It's insane,” he added.
“You also have people who were never in prison before come up to the gate and say I'm with X or Y. I'm from this part of the city,” Mr Keaveney explained.
He also told of how gang bosses have lieutenants operating on their behalf in prisons.
“If you have gang leaders in a place, they will have influence over a wing or a landing or a block. The influence they have is huge so you have to segregate them,” he said.
He said there is an area in Portlaoise prison that could be used for such segregation.
“Some of the gang leaders should be there. It can house 40 people and it would make a huge difference.
“If you take out 40 kingpins, the whole environment of a prison changes, even just 10 of them would change things massively,” echoed POA President Stephen Delaney.
“I can tell you now in Mountjoy alone there are 18 gangs. Some of the gangs are interconnected as well so it can get very complex,” he explained.
In response the Irish Prison Service conceded the increase in recent years of organised gang activity in the community has had significant implications for the management of Irish prisons. “Rivalries and feuds which develop on the outside continue inside of prison. Prison management and staff have to ensure that the various factions are kept apart and, as far as possible, that members do not have influence over other inmates or criminal activities outside the prisons,” said a spokesman.
“Current Irish Prison Service Policy in this regard is to manage these groups and their associates on a daily basis through segregation and separation throughout the prison system,” he added.
“The persons leading or associated to these groups within our Prisons have been identified, targeted and profiled.
“The movement, correspondence, associating and visitor access of these individuals is constantly monitored and reviewed on an almost daily basis.
“The management of this cohort is constantly under review and the accommodation of group leaders in a single high security unit is an action that will be kept under review by the Service and considered if deemed appropriate,” he explained.
The POA also raised the issue of having to deal with violent fights between prisoners, and increasing attacks on officers, with no equipment such as batons or pepper spray to help them.
“When two prisoners are fighting with blades, what do we do? We have to go in with our sleeves twisted up and talk to these people,” said Mr Keaveney.
“We talk about conflict resolution, about de-escalation, we do all that at the moment. We don't go into a row and jump in as a first issue, we do know how to de-escalate many situations, but how we cannot be given batons and pepper spray and equipment, we are absolutely astonished. We gave examples of Scotland and England they carry batons, and in Northern Ireland, but we still in 2017 we go into work with our two arms,” he added.
The Irish Prison Service said it is implementing the recommendations of the recent State Claims Agency Report of Assault of Operational Staff by Prisoners.
“There are a wide range of recommendations which will be implemented by the IPS over a two year period. The issuing of batons was not recommended by the SCA in their report as they felt that the carrying of batons could introduce as much risk at it would possibly mitigate. The issuing of Batons to staff on escort duty has been introduced,” it said.
“The SCA have recommended that the prison service consider the use of incapacitant spray on a trial basis for certain situations and this is being considered and currently researched by us,” it added.
Also at the conference the garda commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan was accused of refusing a face to face meeting with prison officers to address their concerns about attacks on staff in jails.
Mr Keaveney said it had sought a sit down meeting with Commissioner O’Sullivan a year ago on the issue but that “she hasn’t saw fit to have the meeting at this particular point in time”.
“Our specific concerns are the lack of progress that is made when we report a crime or when we report an assault. We have serious concerns that it’s not being taken seriously by an Garda Siochana and we want to meet the Commissioner and tell her that,” he said.
“We think it’s important that she sits down with us, to hear the issue with assaults and how they are prosecuted, and the lack of progress that we see on the ground for individual prison officers,” he said.
“We want her to tell us how serious they are going to take assaults against prison staff.
“There is no point in us meeting an Assistant Commissioner or a Chief Superintendent. They can’t issue general circulars,” he added.