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More than 15,000 contraband items seized in Irish prisons

In the past two years, almost 3,000 weapons have been confiscated from prisoners, including homemade items such as sharpened toothbrushes and pool balls in socks.

A total of 4,784 items were confiscated at Mountjoy Prison in the past 24 months.
A total of 4,784 items were confiscated at Mountjoy Prison in the past 24 months.
Image: Photocall Ireland

A TOTAL OF 2,787 weapons and 3,156 controlled drugs were smuggled into Irish prisons in the past 24 months.

According to figures released by the Department of Justice, 15,076 contraband items were discovered in cells or before they got into the possession of prisoners.

Minister Alan Shatter told the Dáil that the items included mobile phones, drugs, weapons, improvised weapons, phone chargers, alcohol, SIM cards and cash.

“The volume of items involved and the regularity in which seizures take place highlight the continuous attempts being made by criminal elements to access prohibited articles,” said Shatter.

One of the major challenges in prisons today lies in preventing access to contraband items, primarily mobile phones and drugs, which for obvious reasons are viewed as highly valuable commodities among elements of the prison population.”

Shatter noted that many of the items were confiscated at their entry point – either being thrown over walls or smuggled in during visiting hours.

Mountjoy saw the greatest number of seizures with 4,784 items taken either at entry point or from prisoners. That figure includes 247 weapons during 2011 alone.

To try and prevent the flow of such items into Ireland’s 14 prisons, nets have been installed over exercise areas, better CCTV systems are used and there is now stricter control over visits. Routine searches of cells are also carried out, advised Shatter.

Despite the improvements, the Irish Prison Service has recognised that more needs to be done in this area.

A further breakdown of the figures shows that more than 1,600 items were seized at St. Patrick’s Institution, which is a medium security detention centre for males aged between 16 and 21.

The greatest number of weapons were confiscated at the institute last year with officers discovering 256 weapons.

At Dublin’s Arbour Hill, which holds long-term adult male prisoners, just nine contraband items were seized during 2010 and 2011. Of these, only one was classified as a weapon.

A total of 261 times, including 30 weapons, were taken from female prisoners at the Dóchas Centre in Dublin in the past two years.

In the lower level security facility at Loughan House, just four weapons were taken from inmates during 2011.

The high security penal institute at Portlaoise, which houses those guilty of subversive crimes, saw 385 contraband seizures in 2010 and 2011, including 33 weapons.

Compared with 2010, last year saw slightly fewer weapons confiscated from Irish prisons.

Shatter said the reduction is a “direct consequence” of enhanced security measures such as “airport-style security screening of all staff and visitors and x-ray scanners to scan all coats and bags”.

However, he conceded that “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.”

There is also now a trend of homemade weapons entering the prison system, he said. Improvising, prisoners have made weapons out of perspex, sharpened toothbrushes, a pool ball in a sock, brush handles and water jugs.

The figures were released in answer to a parliamentary question from Jonathan O’Brien, Sinn Féin TD for Cork North Central.

More: Parts of Limerick Prison ‘not fit for purpose’ – report>

Related: Deep concern expressed by UN at levels of overcrowding in Irish prisons>

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