Record number of phones seized in jails last year

There is still a booming trade in mobile phones in many prisons despite the introduction of strict security measures in recent years.

Record numbers of mobile phones were seized last year in St Patrick�s Institution, which houses young offenders, while there was a significant increase in hauls in Cork, Midlands, and Portlaoise prisons as well as D�chas Women�s Prison.

Figures released by the Prison Service show there were:

* 220 mobile phone seizures in St Patrick�s in 2011, compared to 138 in 2010;

* 123 seizures in Midlands Prison, compared to 92 in 2010;

* 42 seizures in D�chas, compared to 12 in 2010;

* 30 in Cork Prison, compared to 13 in 2010;

* 27 in Portlaoise Prison (the country�s only high- security jail), compared to 18 in 2010.

Overall, the number of phones seized fell from 1,718 in 2010 to 1,368 � a significant fall from 2009, when 2,174 were seized.

The biggest reductions in seizures have been in Mountjoy, Limerick, the Training Unit in Mountjoy, and Wheatfield.

While the number of mobiles seized in Mountjoy is still significant (420 in 2011), it is a big drop on 2010 (742) and 2009 (904).

Likewise, in Limerick, the number of phones seized fell from 309 in 2009 to 133 in 2010 and to 100 last year.

The crackdown on mobiles started five years ago after Garda bosses expressed concerns that gangland figures were using them to direct everything from shootings to drug deals from behind bars.

Laws introduced in May 2007 made it a criminal offence to be in possession of a mobile phone without the permission of the governor.

Anyone caught faced up to five years in jail on conviction in the higher courts and/or a maximum fine of �10,000.

Prison bosses also set up a range of security measures to stem the flow of contraband, including mobile phones, into and within prisons. Operational support units � search and intelligence squads � were set up within all closed prisons.

A Prison Service official said these searches were particularly effective. He said intelligence indicated �the availability of mobile phones has decreased across the prison system�.

There are also security screening units � incorporating airport-style walkthrough detectors and X-ray scanners � at the entrances of all closed prisons.

They are supplemented by so-called Boss (Body Orifice Security Scanner) chairs, which are used randomly and based on intelligence.

Attempts to install mobile phone blocking technology, tested between 2008 and 2011, have been shelved after it was found it was not working. Pilot projects were carried out in Midlands, Portlaoise, Mountjoy, and Limerick.

�They proved to be problematic as the blocking technologies were not able to keep up with developments in phone technology,� said a Prison Service official.


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