VIOLENT prisoners need to be segregated urgently from other inmates to limit their grip inside jails, prison officers said yesterday.
The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) claimed prison management were not recognising the reality of violence and were questioning whether injuries sustained by staff occurred on duty.
Speaking at the POA annual conference yesterday union president Jim Mitchell said prisons were becoming more violent and there were worrying trends in staff intimidation, seen most recently when bullets were sent to named officers at Mountjoy prison last February.
“Prison management must recognise that when violent people are sent to prison there is rarely a ‘road to Damascus’ transformation. These prisoners seek to undermine and dominate any environment in which they find themselves, and prisons form part of this environment.
“We urgently need segregation of violent prisoners in order to limit their influence within prisons. This should not be along the lines of the makeshift facility in Cloverhill, where segregation occurs in name only, but in dedicated facilities with limiting regimes to ensure that the operation of prisons rests with those charged with doing so — prison officers,” said Mr Mitchell.
“If we don’t take control of this current situation, which allows gangs and individuals to control certain aspects of prison life, we will lose control of our prisons — as has happened in other jurisdictions — and this scenario must be avoided at all costs.”
He said the level of violence faced by prison officers was not appreciated by the authorities.
“What is proving most difficult for prison officers is the failure of management to recognise that this violence actually occurs.
“In a noteworthy incident in Cork Prison last June, a number of our members were injured with some hospitalised. Yet one officer was queried as to whether the injury occurred while on duty in spite being seen in hospital by the governor.”
Mr Mitchell said the range of security initiatives, formally launched by the Government last June, had still not materialised. He said the POA supported the measures, which include a drug detection dog unit, security screening at prison entry and an operation support group to carry out searches.
General secretary John Clinton said the Prison Service’s plans for Thornton Hall in north Dublin stated that the single cells, will be adaptable for a second bed, increasing capacity from 1,400 to 2,200.
“We are talking about a mega prison,” he said. “The Prison Service is not learning. Across Europe and the world, large prisons are not working.”
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