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'The danger is unquantifiable': Prison officers say there are 28 gang factions in Mountjoy alone

The POA said prison officers are dealing with assaults on a daily basis.

Image: Sasko LazarovRollingNews.ie

PRISON OFFICERS HAVE expressed concern about the number of gangs in Irish prisons and about their regularly violent behaviour.

Speaking at the Prison Officers Association annual delegate conference in Sligo today, deputy general secretary Jim Mitchell said prison officers are dealing with threats of violence, prisoner on prisoner assaults and personal assaults on a daily basis.

“There are roughly 28 different gangs and factions operating within Mountjoy prison alone, some are well-known and high-profile. There are over 230 prisoners on protection within the prison, for their own safety – and this adds to the burden placed on prison staff.

Not alone must we ensure the security around ongoing detention we must manage and control systems, which protect the gangs from each other and protect individuals from assaults by gang members, for various reasons.

Mitchell said the majority of prisoners just want to serve their time but there is a minority, particularly those with links to major gangs, who view time in prison as “an extension of the gang culture with all the accompanying violence and control over other vulnerable people”.

“This activity involves feuding, assaults, threats, drug and weapon smuggling and an ongoing determination to control crime and punishment on the outside”.

POA President Tony Power also spoke about attempts by these gangs to smuggle drugs into the prisons. In one week alone in March this year he said over 50 packages of contraband were either delivered by drones or thrown into the exercise yards in Wheatfield Prison.

“Without investment in nets for these yards the only workable interim solution is to stop prisoner exercise on reserve period,” he said.

“The danger linked to these incidents is unquantifiable. Prison officers, as officers, will put their own health and safety at risk in an effort to retrieve this contraband. Up until 2014 our canine unit had the facility to use patrol dogs in such situations but some genius decided that staff in blue shirts would be more effective than these highly trained dogs.”

Speaking at the conference, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he acknowledged the work of prison staff is “challenging and demanding”.

He said he shared their concerns about increasing numbers in Irish prisons.

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“While, it is still important to note that we have relatively low imprisonment rates by international standards, ensuring a safe working environment for you is a key priority for me and the director general.”

The minister also addressed the issue of contraband being thrown or dropped into yards. He described drones as a “threat to prison security” and said a potential solution to address these contraband drops has been identified.

He said it will shortly be trialled in one prison and if it is successful it will be rolled out across the system.

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