Notorious no more? Mountjoy project template for humane, safe jail system
Prison officers say conditions have improved, not only for prisoners for also for them. “You still have tension there, it is a prison after all, but the mood among the prisoners in the areas that are already done is definitely better,” said one source.
Even small positive changes had a major impact on prisoners, said another, because many were confined here for years. “Management and the prison service have put the resources in and it’s paying off. Even the fact we’re not slopping-out; that’s a major improvement for everyone.”
It is a significant turnaround for a facility condemned decades ago as unfit for human habitation and due to close until the proposed new Mountjoy at Thornton Hall, north Co Dublin, was mothballed at the start of the recession.
As well as the physical transformation, a raft of changes have been phased in at Mountjoy in the past number of years.
Nets have been placed over prison yards to help minimise contraband being thrown in from the inner-city streets that surround the prison. Metal detectors have been erected in corridors in a bid to find blades or knives prisoners may be carrying out to the yards.
Airport-style security and a sniffer dog detect visitors carrying drugs or telephones in for prisoners.
When The Irish Times was entering the prison last Friday, a man and woman had just been caught trying to smuggle in tranquillizer tablets and were waiting in the entrance area for gardaí to deal with them. A little later, officers carried out an intelligence-led search of a cell and found a block of cannabis and a smuggled mobile phone.
Some sources say there is still a long way to go to improve facilities such as education courses, workshops and drugs rehabilitation.
Fr Peter McVerry, who runs a hostel and support services for disadvantaged people in Dublin’s north inner city, has visited his clients in Mountjoy every week for decades now.
He has been a fierce critic of conditions in the jail down the years but is hopeful a rebirth is under way.
“The C wing that has been refurbished is a wonderful place to have to spend one’s sentence. If the other wings are refurbished and the policy remains one person, one cell, it could be the model for all our other prisons.”