Prison officers and management disagree about the number of gangs operating in the prison system. Staff claim there are 30 in Mountjoy alone, while the prison service says the number is 10 across all facilities.
Prison officers say they are struggling to keep the gang groupings separated and to prevent inter-gang assaults, as well as prevent ‘hits’ on the outside being ordered from inside.
Gang members arrested by gardaí and convicted are resuming their activities in prison and even hiring ‘contractors’ to carry out work for them, the general-secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) said.
“As we all know now, gangs are international,” John Clinton said, at the POA’s annual conference in Kilkenny. “Irish gangs work on a global basis. They’ve huge resources, huge finances, and they can have great influence within the prison system. So, when they’re caught by the gardaí and imprisoned, they don’t go away. There’s no ‘road to Damascus’ transformation for these people.
“They reform within the prison system and then they operate as they do on the outside, as the criminal gang they are involved in.”
Mr Clinton said the logistics of keeping rival gangs separate are “very, very difficult” for prison guards.
“One gang will want to get at the other gang,” he said. “When they do, our members have to intervene, and our members can get assaulted, as has been pointed out, and injured, during the course of their duties.”
Prison officers say prisoner assaults on staff have become “the norm”, with several serious incidents in prisons over the last year.
Mr Clinton said many people are on “protection” in prisons, because of the proliferation of criminal gangs.
“They control the prison population in the way they control their outside territories,” he said. “They have plenty of influence. There’s quite a lot of them. They group together and a group of criminals can put their rule of law down on other criminals, if that’s allowed to happen.”
The prison service is working on a violent disorder unit in Midlands Prison to house prisoners from gang backgrounds, but the POA wants gang members to be removed to Portlaoise, which has incarcerated paramilitaries since the 1970s, for this purpose.
However, the director-general of the Irish Prison Service, Michael Donnellan, did not accept that gang lords are wielding more power.
“I think our governors and our prison staff are on top of this situation,” he said.
“Gang people always try to push and pull and bully their way.
“We always stand up to that and we’re never fearful of taking them on.”
He said there are “about 10” criminal gangs operating within the prison system, involving about 100 “key gangland people”, along with others who may be associated with them.
“Dealing with criminal gangs is absolutely nothing new for the Irish Prison Service,” said Mr Donnellan.
“The Irish Prison Service has been engaging with criminal gangs in custody for decades. Dealing with criminal gangs in prison systems around the world is nothing new.”
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