Six years after a massive crackdown on mobile phones in prisons began, inmates in one jail have been granted permission to have them.
The Irish Examiner can reveal that almost half of prisoners in one of the country’s two open prisons now have a mobile phone.
The mobile phones have been given out as part of a new regime in Shelton Abbey to improve prisoner behaviour.
Shelton Abbey, located near Arklow, Co Wicklow, is an open, low security penal institution — one of two such jails.
The scheme is expected to be expanded to the second open prison, Loughan House, located in Co Cavan, in the coming weeks.
The Irish Prison Service confirmed that 55 prisoners in Shelton Abbey, which accounts for around half of inmates there, have been given a mobile phone.
“In April 2013 the Irish Prison Service commenced a pilot project in Shelton Abbey whereby a small number of prisoners who, as part of the IPS Incentivised Regimes programme, were given permission by the governor to have the use of a mobile phone,” a spokesman said.
“Only prisoners on enhanced regime are permitted this facility which is subject to close monitoring and a written agreement from the relevant prisoners regarding permissible use.
“There are currently 55 prisoners who have been granted this privilege.”
The introduction of the scheme came six years after laws were passed which made it a criminal offence for inmates to have a mobile phone and for anyone to supply them.
Just a month after the laws there was national outrage when a prisoner, John Daly, rang the Joe Duffy radio show from his cell in Portlaoise Prison — the country’s only maximum security jail.
It resulted in a massive crackdown on the smuggling of all contraband, including drugs and mobile phones.
This involved X-ray screening at entrances, special Boss chairs to scan inmates internally and dedicated intelligence and search teams inside prisons.
The Prison Service spokesman said that inmates in Shelton Abbey allowed the privilege are serving time for a range of offences.
All types of prisoners are held in open prisons, including drug offenders and lifers. No sex offenders are held there.
“Prisoners sign a contract with the Governor undertaking various conditions including — a basic mobile phone only can be used,” the spokesman said.
“This phone cannot have a camera or other recording facility.
“It also cannot have access to the internet. If any conditions are breached, permission to use the phone is withdrawn. There have been no breaches to date.”
Liam Herrick of the Irish Penal Reform Trust said: “Providing prisoners with more regular access to phone calls promotes better contact with families which is crucial to successful reintegration on release.
“Experience from other jurisdictions also suggests it can lead to significant improvements in prison security, reducing the demand for contraband and reducing tensions, assaults and self-harm.”
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