Prison documentary series reveals shocking scale of violence

The shocking violence inside Irish prisons will be revealed tonight in a fly-on-the-wall documentary series which has proved to be a major success for RTÉ.

Life On The Inside is the first time cameras have been allowed access behind prison walls.

The huge success of Love/Hate has shown the nation’s appetite for crime drama but the eye-opening documentary series showing real-life criminals behind bars has stunned the national broadcaster by pulling in almost 600,000 viewers at its peak.

Filmmaker Traolach O’Buachalla, who spent a year filming the documentary in Wheatfield Prison, Dublin, and Shelton Abbey, Co Wicklow, said most people would be appalled at the level of violence behind bars.

“Both prisoners and prison officers talk about it very, very frankly. It’s shocking what goes on in there.

“It is a place where stabbing goes on and gang warfare is being played out and there quite a big use of drugs.

“One of the acts carried out is a thing called striping where a prisoner will use a double blade which cuts in such a way that it leaves a scar for life. It is done with a ‘shiv’, which is two blades inserted into the top of a toothbrush which has been melted down.

“When we were presented with the weapons found over the years during filming it just made my stomach turn. The visceral level of violence and how nasty it is feels truly horrible.”

The documentary observes the daily battle the prison rages between keeping drugs out of the prison and also trying to find the drugs and weapons used.

Prisoners who fear for their safety are put on 23-hour lock up, segreg-ated from the main prison for their own protection, confined to cells, only allowed out for one hour every day.

O’Buachalla said the footage over Christmas gives a look into the real human toll of jails on the prisoners and their families.

“At Christmas, I noticed the real effects of prisoners and you also hear families talk about Confirmations and first days at school for kids. You see families pay for it too.”

The cameras follow a man who entered prison with no academic qualifications at all who is attending prison school five days a week and now holds a Leaving Certificate.

“I came across the most telling statistic when I was filming in the educational unit in Wheatfield: 81% had not even done the Junior Cert,” he said.

“The other major thing we do show in the documentary is the rehabilitation service available to prisoners and the schools in Wheatfield as well.”

* Life On The Inside will be shown RTÉ One at 9.35pm.

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