Violence among inmates blamed on drug debts and gang rivalry

THERE were 1,014 incidents of violence among prisoners in Irish jails during 2010, and more than 800 prisoners may be on protection at any one time.

According to the Prison Service’s annual report, given that 1.5 million bed nights were provided to predominantly young males, the number of assaults on prisoners, particularly those using a weapon, was comparatively low.

The report goes on to say that attacks by prisoners on prisoners are not usually random acts of violence — they are related to matters on the outside such as drug debts and gang rivalry.

On one night last year, 841 prisoners were on protection throughout the prison system, 17% of the entire prisoner population on that date.

Several prisons have high numbers of protection prisoners accommodated on separate landings where they have access to a wide regime of activities including school, workshops, gym facilities, probation service and chaplaincy service, the prison service said.

On one night in 2010 there were 502 prisoners falling into this category, while a further 339 prisoners were accommodated on a restricted regime as they may have been under threat from other prisoners and so can have absolutely no contact with the wider prison population.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust said the report indicates a “very worrying” increase in the level of violence in the system.

This reflects findings of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. The IPRT maintains this is a critical problem within the system and is inextricably linked to the overcrowding problem.

Also in 2010, upwards of 2,400 prisoners were on a methadone programme and drug treatment services are now available in Mountjoy, Dóchas, Midlands and Portlaoise Prisons.

Addiction counselling services provided by Merchants Quay Ireland serves approximately 1,500 prisoners per month.

The prevalence of severe mental illness is significantly worse among prisoners compared to the general population, the annual report states.

The Central Mental Hospital provides 20 consultant led in-reach sessions weekly by arrangement at all Dublin prisons and also at Portlaoise and the Midlands Prisons. Specialist in-reach services are in place for consultant led mental health sessions in the remaining prisons.

During 2010, 1,718 mobile phones were seized across all prisons.

According to the report, the availability of mobile phones is decreasing across the prison system as a direct consequence of new security measures including airport-style scanners and x-ray machines, which are in operation.

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