Prison chiefs consider amnesty on weapons

Prison bosses are considering the roll-out of weapons amnesties following the success of an amnesty in Dublin’s Wheatfield Prison.

Prison chiefs consider amnesty on weapons

The authorities — and an outside inspection body — are crediting the drop in violence in Wheatfield, particularly assaults involving weapons, to the amnesty there. The pardon was first introduced for a period in June 2012 and has been repeated periodically.

Figures show that in the period April-June 2012, prior to the amnesty, there were 30 assaults in Wheatfield, 29 involving the use of a weapon.

During July, August and September, there were 16 assaults, with just one involving a weapon. In the next quarter (October-December) there were 18 assaults, one involving a weapon.

Figures show that 173 weapons were removed from the prison in 2013 and 174 in 2014, as a result of amnesties and subsequent searches.

Weapons include sharpened pieces of plastic, wood and metal, or devices such as razor blades embedded into toothbrush handles (so-called shivs).

Assault figures for Wheatfield show there were 124 cases in 2011, 104 in 2012 and 87 in 2013. It rose to 100 in 2014, but this followed the transfer of juveniles from St Patrick’s Institution. The juvenile prison had, traditionally, the highest number of assaults, including 415 in 2011.

Before the amnesty was introduced, Wheatfield governor Patrick Kavanagh went and told each prisoner individually about the scheme.

He told them that, outside of the amnesty, possession of a weapon would be taken very seriously and would affect transfers and temporary release.

“The success has remained,” said an Irish Prison Service spokesman. “Wheatfield management initiated follow-up weapons amnesties at potentially volatile times, eg Christmas, and to keep the idea of a safe prison foremost in staff and prisoners minds.”

The spokesman added: “Due to the success of the weapons amnesty in Wheatfield, the Irish Prison Service is considering the introduction of similar schemes in other prisons in 2016.”

Jim Mitchell, deputy general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association, said its members in Wheatfield were consulted about the amnesty and fully engaged with it.

“Anything that keeps our people safe and takes weapons out of the system is good and we fully support any extension of it,” he said.

However, he said it must be part of a “full, proper project” that included a serious approach to those who do not comply with the amnesty.

“It has to be carrot and stick, with a big general search after the amnesty and, anyone found with a weapon, management must crack down on them,” said Mr Mitchell.

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