Plans are being put in place to deploy mobile phone blocking systems in prisons to prevent inmates running criminal operations from their cells.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald revealed the Irish Prison Service is currently considering a number of technologies with a view to blocking mobile signals getting in or out of jails.
It’s an offence for inmates to possess a mobile, but it has not prevented nearly 6,000 phones being smuggled into jails in the last five years.
“Through a vigorous approach to screening and searching, the [Prison Service] operational support group continues to recover numerous mobile phones and components.
“The provision of mobile phone blockers would limit this activity and reduce the threat that it poses to society both inside and outside of prisons,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
An increase in searches has led to a steady decline in mobile phone seizures in recent years.
In 2010, prison officials seized 1,718 devices. That dropped to 1,368 in 2011 and was down to 805 in 2013. Last year they discovered 742.
The male prison at Mountjoy has continually topped the list for seizures. There were 742 phones confiscated there in 2010. The figure dropped to 223 last year.
St Patrick’s Institution came in second in 2014 with 109. There were 66 at Loughan House; 59 at the Midlands prison; 53 at Portlaoise and 50 at Cloverhill.
By comparison there were none discovered at Arbour Hill; three in Cork; and five at Shelton Abbey.
It was often believed that feared criminals like the Dundons and John Gilligan were using mobile phones from their cells to continue to run their drugs operations on the outside.
Ms Fitzgerald said measures currently in place to prevent the use of mobile phones include the use of metal detectors and other screening equipment at the point of entry to prisons, the use of sniffer dogs, “as well as random and intelligence-led targeted searching of prisoners and locations within the jails”.
“These searches have been particularly effective and local intelligence indicates that the availability of mobile phones has decreased across the prison system.”
Prisoners caught with a mobile phone can be dealt with under the prison disciplinary system, or if deemed serious enough, the matter can be referred to gardaí for possible prosecution.
Ms Fitzgerald revealed plans for the new blocking system in a Dáil reply to Deputy David Stanton, chairman of the Oireachtas committee on justice and defence.
He said he was pleased to hear that technology could be used to block signals as “prisoners were always finding ingenuous ways to get around the system” by smuggling in the devices and drugs.
Mr Stanton said that when he was visiting prisons in his capacity as the Oireachtas committee chairman, he had to hand his mobile phone in at the gate. He said blocking signals would be an effective way of preventing serious criminals keeping a grip on their operations, because whether they had a phone or not, they couldn’t use it.
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