Prison officers are being sent out “with only our bare hands and courage” to intercept the delivery of contraband into exercise yards according to the general secretary of the Prison Officers Association.
John Clinton claims that up to 50 packages of contraband are being either delivered by drone or thrown over the wall into the exercise yard at Wheatfield prison every week.
He cited an example on RTE radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show where one such delivery was intercepted and was found to contain six mobile phones and a quantity of drugs.
“If the technology is there, get it for us.”
Mr Clinton called for nets to be put over prison exercise yards and for the Minister to examine solutions such as the use of birds of prey that attack drones.
He also said there is a need for “airport-style security” at all prisons for everyone entering the buildings – prisoners, staff and visitors.
Mr Clinton rejected the suggestion that prison officers have lost control in prisons. He acknowledged that there are difficulties. “Things change, technology changes, we need the best.”
He called for the provision of body-cams for all prison officers which had been proven (in the UK) to reduce the level of assaults. “We have been asking for them for years. They are the best thing you can get.”
The general secretary told of a recent incident in Cloverhill prison where a female nurse was attacked and beaten by three male prisoners. “If she had been wearing a body-cam they would have had second thoughts about attacking her.”
He also admitted that there is “a huge issue” with criminal gangs in prisons. “When people are put into prison they don’t go away, there is no Road to Damascus conversion for them. It is an obvious difficulty for us.”
There is a need for isolation units so members of the criminal gangs can be split up, he said. “That would make it that little bit easier.”
Mr Clinton said he would not accept any instances of “a blind eye” being given to the delivery of contraband in an effort to make the job easier for prison officers. “We work for the State, if I saw a drone outside a prison I would call the gardaí. That’s a moral obligation.”
In response to a query about allegations of conversations between prisoners and their lawyers being recorded and a prison officer’s vehicle being tracked, he said he would be concerned “if anything was going on like that.”
If such activities are illegal then this “is a huge issue” and the Minister for Justice needs to address it immediately. “There should be a garda investigation. If something is going on it should be referred to the gardaí.
“I am deeply concerned about that report and on that basis I wrote to the Minister.”