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Prisons seize 2,797 weapons in two years

Prison officials have seized almost 2,800 weapons in the nation's jails over the past two years.

The weapons included sharpened toothbrushes, pool balls in socks, brush handles, homemade knives and slivers of glass and perspex.

The figures were revealed by Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who pointed out that a large percentage of the seizures were not taken directly from prisoners, but were intercepted from visitors or recovered in searches before they reached the jail population.

The searches also resulted in the seizure of a total of 15,076 items including 3,156 drug hauls, mobile phones, chargers, SIM cards and alcohol.

Mr Shatter, who provided the details in a written reply to Sinn Fein justice spokesman Jonathan O'Brien, said the volume of items involved and the regularity of seizures highlighted the continuous attempts made by criminals to smuggle banned goods into the prisons.

Mr O'Brien described the information as shocking and said he was particularly concerned that 256 weapons had been confiscated in St Patrick's Institution for young offenders, pushing it to the top of the list for seizures.

He said St Patrick's was an inappropriate place for children and the details emphasised the urgent need to press ahead with the national children's detention centre.

He noted that Mountjoy jail had particularly high confiscation rates in 2009 (573) and 2010 (460) and he welcomed the drop to 247 weapons last year. The overall total of confiscated weapons fell from 1,499 in 2010 to 1,288 last year.

Mr Shatter said the reduction was a direct consequence of enhanced security measures, including tighter control and monitoring of prison visits; airport style security screening of all staff and visitors coming into the prisons; x-ray scanners to examine coats and bags; increased random searches; stricter searching of persons sent to jail by the courts and those returning to prison after temporary release, court and visits.

He stressed that every effort was made by prison staff and management to limit the scope of acts of violence.

Heading the table for weapon seizures last year was St Patrick's with 256, followed by Mountjoy 247, Wheatfield 215, Castlerea 151, Limerick 122, Cork 96, Midlands 83, Cloverhill 75, Portlaoise 16, Dochas centre for women 14, Training Unit 8, and Loughan House 4.

The list of contraband seized overall was headed by Mountjoy with 4,784, followed by Limerick 1,884, St Patrick's 1,625, Wheatfield 1,501, Midlands 1,187 and Castlerea 908.

Irish Independent