120 weapons uncovered in jails this year

Cormac Byrne

Over 120 improvised weapons have been seized from prisoners so far this year.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern confirmed that weapons including crude stabbing implements known as 'shanks', are used during jail gang clashes.

Attacks by prisoners on prisoners were a direct result of drug debts and gang rivalries.

He said the figures may be misleading as items such as mugs and brushes were now classed as weapons under new prison safety regulations.

"While the prison regime is designed to limit the scope of acts of violence, it is not possible to completely eliminate the possibility of such acts in prisons holding a high proportion of violent offenders without introducing a regime that would be unacceptable," he said.

"Recent statistics indicate that since the new security measures were implemented, there is a trend towards more homemade weapons, for example, sharpened toothbrushes and a pool ball in a sock.

"The rollout of enhanced security measures has made it more difficult for prisoners to secrete improvised weapons. Furthermore, prisoners identified as exerting undue influence or pressure receive close and continued attention and targeted searching."

The discovery of nearly a weapon a day has strengthened calls for stab-proof vests.

"We now have a situation where gardai escorting gangland criminals have weapons and body armour -- and prison officers who are escorting the prisoners are in shirt sleeves," said Eugene Dennehy, deputy general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association.

"This is unacceptable. If the perceived risk dictates that gardai should have body armour and weapons then surely prison officers on the same escorts must have protective vests."

The director general of the Prison Service, Brian Purcell, said there were 800 assaults by prisoners on other inmates last year and a further 150 assaults on prison officers.

He said the number of assaults should be seen in the context of the number of prisoners passing through the system.