Nearly 900 pints of homemade alcohol was confiscated from prisoners in Irish jails last year, new figures have revealed, writes Darragh McDonagh.
The potent home brew, or “hooch”, is made by inmates using basic ingredients including water, sugar, fruit, and bread. The mix is hidden in cells until it ferments.
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that a total of 873 litres of homebrew was seized last year, bringing the total seized in the last four years to almost 6,500 pints of this ad-hoc alcohol.
Last year, the largest quantity of the illegal homebrew was seized at Castlerea Prison in Co Roscommon, where the equivalent of 226 pints was confiscated by prison officers.
A total of 200 pints was seized from inmates at Midlands Prison in Portlaoise, where detainees include twisted murderer Graham Dwyer and convicted serial killer Mark Nash.
Prisoners at Cork Prison were forced to surrender more than 160 such pints during 2016, while a further 116 pints were seized by the authorities at Portlaoise Prison.
Portlaoise is the State’s only maximum-security facility, where inmates currently serving long-term sentences include three of the Dundon brothers Wayne, John, and Dessie.
No home-brewed alcohol was found at the Dóchas Centre in Dublin last year, where female offenders are detained. Similarly, there were no such seizures at St Patrick’s Institution, which accommodates young offenders.
Hooch, or “prison wine”, can be made from a variety of makeshift ingredients including apples, oranges, potatoes, and bread, which provides the yeast required for the fermentation process.
A sock can be used to separate the pulp from the liquid, and the finished product can be extremely potent, depending on the amount of sugar used and the length of time it is left to ferment.
Prison brewing is a dangerous process that has been known to cause outbreaks of botulism — a disease caused by bacteria produced during the fermentation process. Its symptoms can include muscle weakness, paralysis, and blindness.
In the UK, some prisons have banned inmates from buying large quantities of fruit — especially apples and pears — to prevent their use in the brewing process and clamp down on the production of hooch.
The Irish Prison Service (IPS) has said that extensive efforts are made to reduce the flow of contraband in Irish jails, and this has resulted in a reduction of illicit items seized in recent years.
“A range of enhanced measures including the establishment of a dedi- cated group of staff was introduced in May 2008 with the aim of reducing the supply of contraband into our prisons,” said the IPS.
“This included the introduction of security screening areas in all closed prisons, the introduction of a canine unit, increased searching of cells and their occupants, and the installation of nets over exercise yards.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.