Notorious no more? Mountjoy project template for humane, safe jail system
An overhaul is transforming Mountjoy Prison from a byword for chaos into what could be the jewel in the crown of the prison system
In the circle of Mountjoy Prison you can stand and look down the length of all four three-storey wings just by turning your head. It is the hub around which prison life revolves.
Bunches of oversized keys rattle as a small army of officers marches backwards and forwards going about their work. The thick reinforced steel doors creak open and slam shut as prisoners yell out to each other across the landings.
Above it all is the sound of a busy building site. The A Division, or wing, is the latest to undergo a complete refit. It is the next chapter in efforts by the Irish Prison Service to transform a jail that has become a byword for everything that is wrong with Irish prisons.
Prisoners have been stabbed to death here. There have been riots. The flow of drugs and mobile phones into the jail is constant and prison gangs have emerged. A quarter of prisoners are locked into cells for between 21 and 23 hours a day for their own protection.
Prisoners have been piled into cells – sometimes three at a time in a 7sq m space built for one. They have urinated and defecated in chamber pots in the same cells where they eat their meals. Their pots have been emptied in the areas where they wash and source drinking water.
The prisoner population in Mountjoy has exceeded 700 in recent years. Yet the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, has said it has a design capacity of 489 and should hold no more than 540.
Staff have simply had to put mattresses down anywhere they can: cell floors, showering areas, offices, and even basement holding cells intended to house prisoners for the hour or two it took to be processed on arrival.
In August 2006, 21-year-old Gary Douch was put into a basement cell with six other inmates, because he was under threat of attack in the main prison. During the night he was punched, stamped and kicked to death by another prisoner, Stephen Egan.
Egan was mentally ill but did not have access to his medication because he had just been transferred to the jail. He was in the basement because the cells in the prison proper were crammed beyond capacity.
However, such has been the progress here in the past 12 to 18 months, one can say with near certainty a prisoner could not be murdered there now in the manner Douch was.