The Kinahan-Hutch feud has driven an “explosion” in the mass isolation of inmates at Mountjoy Prison, with one in three prisoners at the jail now on protection.
The number of Mountjoy inmates on restricted regimes has trebled in the last four years, with those now on protection locked up in their cells for 21 hours a day.
Limerick Prison also boasts a high number of prisoners on restricted regimes, affecting one in three inmates there, though the increase over the last four years is much smaller than in Mountjoy.
The vast bulk of prisoners on restricted regimes — which can range from 19 hours to 23 hours locked in their cells — are people voluntarily seeking protection for their own safety, with a smaller number subject to discipline.
The huge increase in protection numbers in Mountjoy is placing enormous strain on management and prison officers, in terms of both separating the various gangs and ensuring that everyone on protection gets out-of-cell time of at least three hours a day.
This follows the setting up by Prison Service boss Michael Donnellan in 2013 of a high-level internal group to examine ways of ensuring inmates on restricted regimes receive, at a minimum, three hours out of their cell in order to engage in exercise or activities.
Prison management said this was to bring Ireland more into line with European norms.
Official statistics show that the total number of inmates on restricted regimes jumped from 295 in April 2014 to 514 in April 2018 — an increase of 75%. It means that, across the 12 prisons in the country, one in eight inmates are on protection.
Most of the increase has been in the last two years, after the Kinahan-Hutch feud erupted on the streets of Dublin and beyond.
Prison Service figures show the problem is concentrated in certain prisons:
- The number on restricted regimes has trebled in Mountjoy, from 75 in April 2014 to 222 in April 2018.
- Based on the capacity in Mountjoy, restricted regime numbers accounted for 13% of the population in 2014 and 32% in 2018.
- The number rose in Limerick Prison from 69 to 85 in the same period (+23%).
- Based on capacity in Limerick Prison, restricted regime numbers rose from 26% of the population in 2014 to 32% in 2018.
“There’s clearly a huge increase in Mountjoy,” said one senior prison source, “and is clearly linked to issues in the community.”
He pointed out that Mountjoy was the only committal prison for sentenced inmates in Dublin.
“We do have a large increase in protection prisoners in Mountjoy which is due to Garda successes linked to gangs,” he said.
He said while Limerick Prison also had a large number of protection prisoners the problem was not as severe as in Mountjoy, which he said had 10 gang factions.
“Numbers in Limerick have increased, okay, from 69 to 85, but it has not exploded like in Mountjoy,” said the source.
All but one of the 85 prisoners on protection in Limerick are locked up for 19 hours. All the 222 protection prisoners in Mountjoy are under 21-hour lock up.
The vast bulk (some 92%) of people on restricted regimes across the system, including Mountjoy, voluntarily seek protection.
Management and staff have to try and ensure they are removed from coming into contact with enemies during out-of-cell time.
“Some people can’t mix with two or three people, but some can’t mix with 50, say, the likes of Kinahans,” said a source. “That’s a major challenge to ensure they don’t mix but also have three hours out of their cells.”
The move by Mr Donnellan has seen a dramatic reduction in 23-hour lock-up, from 211 in July 2013 to 85 in January 2018, falling to just 12 in April.
The Prison Service estimated there are around 100 high-level gang figures in Irish jails and a further 150 gang associates.