Increase in drug and phone seizures in prisons

The Irish Prison Service has reported increases in materials being thrown over into prisons
Increase in drug and phone seizures in prisons

An increased level of drug and mobile phone seizures were made in Irish prisons last year. More than double the rate detected in 2016.  Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The number of drugs and mobile phone seizures in Irish prisons last year reached their highest points for years and were more than double the level detected in 2016, driven by a rise in 'throw-over' attempts and attempted deliveries through the mail.

New figures from the Irish Prison Service (IPS) show that there were 1,546 seizures of drugs in 2021, up from 1,251 in 2020, and 1,378 seizures of phones, an increase from the 1,148 detections the previous year.

However, the new figures show the number of weapons detections in the country's prisons last year, at 295, was almost identical to the figure for 2020 and remains lower than the levels across 2016 to 2019. The annual total peaked in 2018 when 664 detections were made.

The rising number of detections of phones and drugs came in a year when inmates again faced restrictions on visitors because of the Covid-19 pandemic, with prison authorities identifying an increase in 'throw-over' methods instead, and hailing the rise in the number of detections.

A spokesperson for the Irish Prison Service said: "Preventing the access of contraband, including drugs, into prisons will always remain a high priority for the Irish Prison Service.

"The suspension of visits for significant periods since March 2020, as a result of Covid-19, has 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. Due to the regimes currently in operation in our prisons, prison staff have been able to identify and intercept many of these 'throw-overs', ensuring they do not reach the prison population.

"In addition, 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 was in Mountjoy Prison where two of the biggest seizures of contraband to date was recorded.

"An increase in drugs found in post, parcels, and prisoner clothing has also increased as a result of visits being suspended. Advancements in our drug detection technology has proved particularly effective in identifying drugs that are sprayed onto letters, newspapers, and other prisoner property."

Court sittings

It's also understood that the fall in the number of court sittings in the past two years, again prompted by the pandemic, has resulted in fewer prison staff going on court and hospital inmate accompaniments, with the result that more staff are available to assist with patrols in jails and aid the detection effort.

Anyone found with drugs or other contraband is subject to an investigation under the IPS' P19 System, its disciplinary system.

Physical visits in prisons were suspended again last Monday, and the latest figures show three active Covid-19 outbreaks in three different prisons, with nine other outbreaks in other jails since the start of last November. At least 428 prisoners have tested positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic.

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