Surge in prisoners on special protection

Picture: Rolling News

There has been a surge in the number of prisoners put on protection for their own safety, with the sharpest rises in Mountjoy Prison and Cloverhill Remand Prison.

Prison estimates show the number of significant gang figures behind bars now stands at around 300, up 50 on the last two years. 

This rise, and the knock-on impact on protection numbers, is driven in large part by garda successes against the Kinahan crime cartel.

The Kinahan-Hutch feud is considered a main driver, in particular, in the rise in Mountjoy, where a third of inmates are on protection and locked up for at least 21 hours each day. 

The bulk of Kinahan-related inmates are detained in Mountjoy.

However, Cloverhill Prison, which caters for inmates on remand awaiting trial, has witnessed a massive increase in protection numbers, jumping 10-fold in the last three years.

The latest figures on protection numbers (dating from January 2019) show that 570 (14% of the prison population) were on restricted regimes. 

The bulk of them were on protection for their own safety (with most of them seeking the protection voluntarily).

This compares to 339 (9% of the population) in January 2016 two months before the Kinahan-Hutch feud exploded with the murder of David Byrne at the Regency Hotel that February.

An analysis of figures published by the Irish Prison Service show:

  • Numbers on restricted regimes in Mountjoy increased from 126 (23% of its prison population) in January 2016 to 237 (34%) in January 2019.
  • The numbers rose the most in Cloverhill remand prison, from 12 (3% of its prison population) in January 2016 to 113 (27%) in January 2019
  • In contrast, protection numbers in Limerick Prison, which, along with Mountjoy, had traditionally most protection prisoners, has dropped from 73 (32% of the population) to 14 (7%) in the same time period.
  • Numbers in Wheatfield (where Hutch inmates are kept) have increased from 74 (16%) to 92 (19%), while in Cork they have gone from 17 (10%) to 37 (13%).

The problem continues to place an “enormous strain” on management and prison officers, who have to try and keep various gangs separate, while at the same time ensuring those on protection get at least three hours out of their cells.

Jim Mitchell, POA deputy secretary general, said the problem in Mountjoy was driven by one gang and many inmates not aligned to them going on protection.

“It’s not just one group on protection and they associate with themselves, that would be a lot easier, within them you have groups and individuals on protection from each other,” he said.

He said this creates a “headache” for management and officers on the floor to handle, saying his members dread getting “stuck in the middle” of any clashes between different groups on protection.

Prison bosses estimate there are 300 significant gangsters in prisons, around 100 high-level gang figures and 200 criminal associates. 

This is a rise of around 50 in the last two years.

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