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An average of 12 phones are seized in Irish prisons every week

The figure is up on last year, but way down on 2008 when about 42-a -week were seized.

Some of the other items seized by gardaí in Irish prisons.
Some of the other items seized by gardaí in Irish prisons.
Image: Leon Farrell/RollingNews.ie

THE NUMBER OF mobile phones seized in Irish prisons increased to 648 last year despite enhanced security measures designed to prevent contraband from being smuggled into jails.

Earlier this week, an inmate at Mountjoy Prison was sentenced to an additional two months in jail for having a phone hidden down the back of a toilet in his prison cell.

It was the second time that Leroy Dumbrell (30) of Emmett Road, Inchicore had been caught with a contraband phone during his current seven-year sentence for violent disorder and threatening to kill a garda.

It is illegal to be in possession of a phone while in prison and visitors are required to undergo rigorous security screening before entering any of the State’s 14 places of detention.

However, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that the number of phones seized by prison officers increased by 22 last year to 648 – an average of 12 phones every week.

More than 28% of these (183) were seized at Mountjoy Prison, while Limerick Prison accounted for another 119 of the total haul. A further 89 mobile phones were seized at Midlands Prison in Portlaoise.

No contraband phones were seized at the Dóchas Centre, where female offenders are jailed or at Arbour Hill in Dublin, which is a medium-security prison predominantly populated by inmates serving long-term sentences.

Enhanced security measures had seen a dramatic reduction in the number of contraband phones entering the prison system – falling from 2,174 in 2008 to 626 in 2015.

However, the number of seized handsets increased last year for the first time since the establishment in of a dedicated unit to combat contraband in Irish prisons in May 2008.

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) has said that changes and advancements in technology had presented new challenges for security staff tasked with preventing contraband from being smuggled into jails.

The availability of tiny phones that can be disguised as everyday objects has made it increasingly difficult for prison officers to prevent the flow of such items into the prison system.

Mobile phones that mimic the appearance of car keys can now be purchased online for as little as €40, and are being passed to inmates during prison visits.

“By enhancing our security measures over recent years, we have seen year-on-year reductions in the levels of contraband – including mobile phones – being seized across the prison estate,” said an IPS spokesperson.

Our security staff remain vigilant and are constantly aware of changes in this area including the emergence of new technologies. Security equipment is constantly tested and recalibrated to keep pace with these changes.

All mobile phones seized by prison officers are handed over to An Garda Síochána, the spokesperson said.

Read: Prison officers seized two weapons a day over the last five years >

Read: Falling crime rates mean Netherlands’ prisons are being used to house asylum seekers >

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Darragh McDonagh

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