Gang culture is posing such a threat at Mountjoy Prison in Dublin that up to one in four inmates are seeking to be confined to a solitary cell for their own protection.
The Mountjoy Prison Visiting Committee said that, in the absence of improvements in feuds in communities the prisoners come from, the protection problem was “likely to persist”.
The Mountjoy committee report was one of 14 reports for 2016 published on each of the country’s jails.
Cloverhill Prison Visiting Committee also said gang culture continued to pose a “serious problem” within the remand centre, particularly as a result of recent inter-gang violence.
In Dochas Women’s Prison, the visiting committee said drugs continued to be a significant problem and that they fuelled aggressive and bullying behaviour that was endangering prisoners and staff.
In the Mountjoy report, the committee said prisoners expressed “frustration, hopelessness and, at times, anger” about the conditions of their custody.
This included “prevalence of gang culture”, which was giving rise to the need for protection, widespread abuse of drugs, the lack of drug-free environment in prison, and drug-free accommodation on release.
The report said the large number of prisoners on restricted regime was generally a reflection on divisions and disputes in the community where the prisoners come from.
“The context of threat and violence has had an impact on safety, health and rehabilitation of prisoners and is a cause of concern,” it said. “In the absence of a solution to the problem in society as a whole the numbers in prison requiring protection is likely to persist.”
The committee said protection numbers in the north inner city jail “can reach one in four prisoners”. It said the capacity of management to ensure the security of prisoners while, at the same time, providing an acceptable level of out-of-cell time and activity is severely constrained by shortages in staffing, recreational space and workshops.
The committee said there was significant concern at the lack of access to secure specialised treatment and mental health services and that this may pose a risk for prisoners and staff.
The report said those prisoners who may be disturbed or presenting challenging behaviour and occasionally requiring up to 23 hours in a cell were in need of “urgent review”.
In Cloverhill Prison in west Dublin, the committee said, the number of protection prisoners remained high and that the logistics of dealing with this was extremely difficult.
“Gang culture continues to be a serious problem within the prison, especially with the recent inter-gang violence,” it said.
The committee was concerned at the lack of passive drug detection dogs during the week and that the transfer of drugs over prison walls continued to be a “huge cause of concern”.
The committee also said it was deeply concerned at the high number of prisoners in shared cells and that the lack of toilet privacy was “an affront” to their dignity.
Of the 415 people who were in custody in October 2016, 276 were in triple cells and 32 in quadruple cells. A total of 360 used the toilet in the presence of others.
Problems in Dochas Women’s Prison, included “unequal treatment” of women prisoners due to the lack of an open prison and step-down facilities, the “unacceptable” condition of Dochas, homelessness on release and overcrowding.
The committee said the problem of aggressive and bullying behaviour often fuelled by drugs was prevalent and seemed to be “getting worse”.
In Cork Prison, the committee said workshops were closed due to staff shortages on “too many occasions” .
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