Wednesday 21 August 2019

Prison staff 'turning a blind eye to gangs'

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Prisons Inspector Judge Michael Reilly at the launch of the Prison Culture Report
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Prisons Inspector Judge Michael Reilly at the launch of the Prison Culture Report

John Brennan

Criminal gangs have been allowed to develop in jails with "no clear operational strategy" for dealing with them, according to a damning report by the prisons watchdog.

And some staff members are "turning a blind eye to gang activities" the report by the Prison Inspector states.

The study into the 'Culture and Organisation' of Irish prisons found that:

Drug-dealing gangs pose a "major threat" to order in jails.

Inmates who refuse to concede to gang leaders' demands face violence.

Victims of violence are transferred to other prisons, rather than the perpetrators.

The report states: "Gangs are a feature of prison life in many countries, but prisons in Ireland do not have a clear operational strategy for dealing with them."

Shockingly, it also says: "Some individual staff members appear to be at a loss as to how to manage the problems of disorder which result and prefer to turn a blind eye to gang activities."

The report attributes the growth of gangs in jails to "the absence of a meaningful individual assessment of prisoners" and says it has "significant operational consequences for the way prisons are managed and for internal good order".

It states that as a result of the activities of gangs "a relatively large number of prisoners" are kept in "protective regimes" which "often amount to isolation".

Launching the report, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that there was "no place" for gangs in our communities or in prisons.

The study was compiled by Prisons Inspector Judge Michael Reilly, who said the report was meant to bring about "corrective action" rather than criticism.

A Prison Officers Association (POA) statement last night welcomed the report's finding on the apparent lack of a strategy to deal with gangs, which they said had been "a matter of deep concern to the POA for well over a decade".

Jim Mitchell from the POA told today's Morning Ireland how one man was targeted in Finglas, and the incident was believed to be directly related to his job.

"They made for him, he got back into the house, people were arrested at the time. It’s currently the subject of a garda inquiry," he said.

The statement said: "Hopefully, the IPS will now take note of this most serious and potentially explosive development within our prison system."

However, the POA added that it was "disappointed" by parts of the watchdog's report, which "raises issues of unprofessionalism".

It said: "The job of the prison officer is extremely difficult, as he or she endeavours to cope in a stressful and often dangerous environment.

"Prison officers show immense skill, professionalism, patience and courage on a daily basis in the very best interests of colleagues, prisoners and the service."

The POA said the report raised important issues about the need for training and claimed that staff learning and development were "grossly underfunded and do not have the necessary support of the Prison Service management".

An Irish Prison Service spokesman last night declined to comment on either the report or the POA's remarks about staff training.

Irish Independent

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