Gangs control parts of some of the State’s jails and are continuing to deal drugs and order murders outside the prison system, the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) has claimed.
The organisation has called for all serious gangland criminals involved in prison gangs to be moved to the maximum security Portlaoise Prison. Its members are under attack from prisoners and should have more specialist equipment such as body-worn cameras, attack dogs, batons and shields, the POA said.
However, Michael Donnellan, director general of the Irish Prison Service, said the service "would never be fearful of taking on gangs" in prisons.
He praised the prison officers for the way they dealt with gangs but rejected the suggestion that some groups were running prisons. He said gang members were dispersed across jails in a deliberate attempt to weaken their influence.
Mr Donnellan said that if all gangland prisoners were sent to Portlaoise, or any other single prison, it would create a very unhealthy and dangerous environment.
“Our policy has been for the last number of years is to disrupt the gang structure,” he said. “We place them in several prisons around our estate, particularly in two or three...We need to disrupt (gang members’) communication, and all the evidence internationally is if we put them all together that that ends badly.”
John Clinton, POA general secretary, said the issue of gangs in jails was a serious one, with 30 factions in Dublin's Mountjoy Prison alone at present. He said keeping these groups apart within the campus was proving very difficult.
Mr Clinton said that as crime gangs grew wealthier, more organised and more powerful in society; the status of their members in jails was emboldened.
“These gangs are international. Irish gangs work on a global basis,” he said at the POA’s annual conference in Kilkenny City. “They’ve huge resources; huge finances and they can have great influence within the prison system.
“So when they’re caught by the gardaí and imprisoned they don’t go away. There’s no ‘road to Damascus’ transformation for these people...They form within the prison system. And then they operate as they do on the outside.”
Prison officers were regularly forced to intervene in physical fights between members of rival factions and were often injured doing so, he added.
Mr Clinton said that as criminal feuding worsened outside the prison walls, it continued when members of the rival factions were jailed.
“We can’t just let one gang member get to another gang member and do what they do on the outside or we would have people lined up in body bags,” he said.
Mr Donnellan said there were 10 gangs in the prison system with about 100 people involved and another 100 or so prisoners more loosely associated.
He said he had listened to the POA’s suggestion that remission should be reduced for any prison who assaulted staff. Remission is a 25 per cent reduction in a prison sentence for so-called good behaviour which all inmates receive in Ireland.
Responding to a POA claim that the Irish Prison Service was downplaying the number of attacks on prison officers, Mr Donnellan said: “We would never seek to minimise the figures of assault.
“As the director general I take assaults of our staff very, very seriously. I mean last year for instance we had 104 assaults by prisoners on prison officers. But on top of that we had 72 injuries on duties because of interventions that prison officers make.”
He was satisfied that the manner in which assaults were collated and analysed captured all incidents and the extent of the injuries sustained.
Mr Donnellan said he did not believe increased security measures – such as batons, cameras and dogs called for by the POA – would build a healthy working relationship between prison officers and inmates.