Prison Service vows to do more to fight contraband

The Prison Service has admitted it needs to do more to tackle the flow of contraband into jails after another rise in the seizures of phones, drugs and weapons.

Prison Service vows to do more to fight contraband

Figures provided to the Irish Examiner show 2,447 contraband items were seized in prisons last year, compared with 1,798 in 2016.

Drugs were seized on 1,018 occasions, the highest level since 2013, while 872 phones were found, the highest number since 2012.

In addition, 557 weapons were seized, up from 435 in 2016, though the overall number is the second lowest in the past seven years.

While the number of drugs seizures increased significantly, up by more than 300 compared with the figure for 2016, last year’s tally is lower than the comparable figures for 2011 and 2012. Likewise, more phones were seized in 2011 and 2012 than was the case last year.

However, the increases in contraband seized, while reflective of IPS efforts to intercept such items, is also likely to cause concern as to whether methods of stopping contraband in recent years are proving less successful than before.

The quantity of items seized last year increased in seven of the country’s 12 prison facilities, with the biggest problem in Mountjoy, where items seized jumped from 378 in 2016 to 763 last year. That figure included 334 phones and 373 drug seizures, easily the highest numbers across the prison system.

Wheatfield Prison had the next highest number of items seized at 518, also up on the figure for 2016, and the highest number of weapons seized (174) across all prisons. Elsewhere, 352 items were seized at the Midlands Prison, an increase of 120 year-on-year.

Among the prisons to see a decrease in seizures were Cork and Prison, while 21 contraband items were seized in the Dochas Women’s Prison, including one weapon, compared with 10 drug seizures in 2016.

A spokesman for the Irish Prison Service said preventing the access of contraband into prisons remains a high priority for the IPS and that since 2008 it has had a dedicated team of officers who have sole responsibility for preventing the flow of contraband into prisons.

“The Operational Support Group (OSG) operate the security screening areas that are now located at the point of entry of all closed prisons,” he said.

“The also operate the canine unit and the Operational Support Unit who conduct regular searches and gather intelligence in relation to the smuggling of contraband.

“Efforts are made on a continuous basis by prison staff to prevent the flow of drugs into our prisons. In addition to the establishment of the OSG the installation of nets over exercise yards, enhanced CCTV monitoring, the stricter control of visits and the use of targeted and random cell searches on a daily basis has reduced the availability of contraband.

“The introduction of passive and active drug detection dogs and the installation of airport-style security including scanners and x-ray machines has also helped efforts to tackle the problem. Random searches of cells and their occupants have uncovered significant quantities of contraband in recent years.

“Nevertheless, the Irish Prison Service recognises that constant improvements are required in this area.”

A new confidential telephone line (1800 855 717) operated by the IPS allows prisoners, visitors, staff or the public to pass on information in relation to contraband.

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