Drugs were sprayed onto letters and newspapers and stitched into clothing in a bid to get around visit restrictions imposed in prisons because of Covid-19, according to the Irish Prison Service.
Official figures show a continuing rise in the number of mobile phones being seized in 2022, with an increase in weapon seizures and a dramatic increase in the number of arrests by gardaí.
Though the number of drug seizures dropped last year, compared to 2021, they were still higher than in any year between 2016 and 2020.
Portlaoise Prison, the country’s only high-security jail, which houses dissidents and gangland bosses, saw the greatest percentage increase in seizures of all the prisons.
Figures for the number of contraband seizures show:
- Mobile phone seizures — 1,425 in 2022, compared to 1,369 in 2021, 962 in 2018 and 648 in 2016;
- Drug seizures — 1,378 in 2022, compared to 1,518 in 2021, 1,138 in 2018 and 715 in 2016;
- Weapons seizures — 311 in 2022, compared to 292 in 2021, 664 in 2018 and 435 in 2016;
- Total arrests by gardaí — 125 in 2022, up from 35 in 2021 and compares to 99 in 2018 and 107 in 2016.
In a brief report on the figures, the IPS said that preventing contraband, including illegal drugs, from getting into prisons “will always remain a high priority”.
It said the suspension of visits for significant periods since March 2020, as a result of Covid-19, had “forced a shift” in the methods used for trafficking contraband into prisons.
“We have seen an increase in the number of “throw overs”, i.e. contacts on the outside attempting to throw mobile phones and drugs into exercise yards,” it said.
It said that due to the regimes currently in operation in prisons, prison staff have been able to identify and intercept many of these “throw-overs”, ensuring they do not reach the prison population.
It said staff have increased the use of random and intelligence-led cell searches on a daily basis.
“Our canine unit carries out searches around the prisons, including a greater focus on searching deliveries. Recent examples of this were in Mountjoy Prison, where two of the biggest seizures of contraband to date were recorded.”
In addition, it said: “An increase in drugs found in the post, parcels, and prisoner clothing has also increased as a result of visits being suspended. Advancements in our drug detection technology have proved particularly effective in identifying drugs that are sprayed onto letters, newspapers, and other prisoner property.”
It is understood the drug-sprayed paper is intended to be smoked by inmates receiving it, with fentanyl, an extremely strong synthetic substitute for heroin, being among substances detected.
The 2022 figures show that the greatest number of mobile phone and drug seizures were in Wheatfield Prison in west Dublin, with 77 of all arrests taking place there.
Mountjoy Male Prison saw a rise in mobile phone and weapons seizures and a drop in drug seizures.
Limerick Prison recorded a significant rise in weapons seizures (from 34 to 61) and was the next highest after Wheatfield.
Seizures of mobile phones in Cork Prison remained unchanged, with a drop in both drug and weapons seizures.
Portlaoise Prison reported a significant increase in all four categories, albeit with numbers coming from a low base. Mobile phone seizures doubled, from 11 to 22; drug seizures trebled from nine to 29, weapons seizures jumped from zero to 17 and arrests doubled from six to 13.