President Stephen Delaney also revealed there are just nine bed spaces for drug addicts trying to detox in Mountjoy Prison.
Speaking on the eve of the POA’s annual conference in Kilkenny, Mr Delaney said there were in excess of 400 prisoners on protection, one in 10 of all inmates.
Overcrowding was like a “noose around the prison service neck” and there appears to be no real commitment to tackling the issue.
“Despite the well established fact mental illness is a major issue within the prison population, there are just nine cells available to accommodate offenders, who are regarded as mentally ill or mentally challenged,” Mr Delaney said.
The cells were only available in Mountjoy Prison, which set up a high dependency unit six months ago. The inmates are seen regularly by a team of psychologists, psychiatric consultants and nurses.
However, prison officers were “insufficiently trained” on how to handle these prisoners.
Likewise, he said the nine detox spaces were available in Mountjoy in part of the medical unit.
“That’s very limited in a prison with a high percentage on drugs. Any of those who want to come off have to do so in a drug-filled environment, which is virtually impossible.”
Mr Delaney said there were “insufficient resources and facilities” to cater for the inmates on protection.
He said not only do these inmates have to be placed on a restricted regime, separate from other prisoners, they have to be kept separate from each other as there can be five-to-eight rival factions.
“And because we have people in the system who shouldn’t be there, the system is exploding at the seams and there is little focus on rehabilitation,” he said.
“As prison officers we see the same people returning year on year and we see lots of people who are no threat whatever to society and yet are incarcerated.”