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Gang culture on the rise in Irish prisons as increasing numbers seek protection

A visiting committee described the situation in Cloverhill prison in particular as a “logistical nightmare”.
Jun 27th 2016, 6:30 AM 11,252 17

GANG CULTURE HAS become such a problem in Irish prisons that as many as one in four inmates in some facilities are under protection.

A number of reports from the Prison Visiting Committee, published last week, revealed an increase in the numbers of prisoners seeking protection in both Cloverhill and Mountjoy prisons last year.

In Cloverhill, the committee found there was a “substantial” rise, and that it could make up a significant percentage of the prison population on any given day.

This “continues to place a massive strain on the prison’s resources”, the report said. The committee described it as a “logistical nightmare”, as all of these prisoners have to be segregated and within that segregation they may also be split up further.

Concern was expressed that this segregation leads to a restricted regime which can limit prisoners’ access to education and out of call time.

It doesn’t stop at the gate

The “alarming growth” in numbers requesting protection was reported to be a “reflection of the gang culture in society”.

As we highlighted previously external gang feuds affiliations do not stop at the gate of the prison when people are committed to prison.

The report also highlighted concerns about yard hubs, which it said do not protect the prisoners in the yard.

Serious assaults have occurred, and with the lack of officer presence in the yards this will continue to happen. There is grave concern here among members that the use of the hubs will lead to further serious incidents occurring.

Mental health issues

In Mountjoy, the number of protection prisoners also rose. More than one in four prisoners was reported to be under a restricted prison regime.

The proportion of protection prisoners as a share of the total number of prisoners in Mountjoy rose from 17% in January 2015 to 27% in October 2015. In European terms, Ireland is unique, with more than 15% of the prison population under security measures, according to the Council of Europe.

While the numbers of prisoners on 23-hour lock-up is small (five in July 2015) the numbers on 21-hour lock-up increased over the year to 84 out of 119 protected prisoners in July 2015.

The committee has expressed concern for the mental health of these inmates as many spend most of their days and nights in isolation from other prisoners.

This means they cannot avail of any of the activities in the prison like sport, music, art or education.

Lack of human contact can give rise to feelings of alienation, isolation, dehumanisation, depression and may contribute to poor mental health. The impact can include loss of autonomy; depersonalisation and feelings of paranoia.

The committee has requested this situation be reviewed as a priority.

Read: Irish prisons need to have a better plan for released inmates>

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Michelle Hennessy

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