Over half of Mountjoy prisoners in protection regimes due to gang violence
17 gangs now operating within the prison, Governor says
On Friday, in Mountjoy main prison, 227 prisoners were on a protection regime, meaning they are locked up for at least 19 hours a day. File photograph: Cyril Byrne
Over half of the prisoners in the country’s biggest prison, Mountjoy, are currently in protection regimes for their own safety due to gang violence.
The situation has deteriorated significantly since the beginning of the Hutch-Kinahan feud which has resulted in 18 deaths since 2016.
Governor Eddie Mullins said on Friday there were 447 prisoners in the main jail of Mountjoy in central Dublin of which 227 were on a protection regime, meaning they are locked up for at least 19 hours a day.
He said there are currently 17 different groups or gangs within Mountjoy which must be kept apart from each other at all times.
According to a recent Irish Times investigation, gang violence had now spread into the prisons where it has had a severe knock-on effects on resources, education and levels of violence.
Mr Mullins was speaking at the launch of the Progress in the Penal System report completed by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT).
Although the IPRT found some improvement in the prison conditions and practices, it also identified several areas where progress has stalled or reversed including in the area of educational resources in prisons.
Between January and April this year the average participation rate in education across all prisons fell from 39 per cent to 29 per cent. Some classes have recently been cancelled due to staff shortages and the high numbers of prisoners in voluntary seclusion due to fears for their safety.
The large numbers of prisoners on a protection regime “unfortunately restricts their access to education”, the governor said.
Mr Mullins said prison management was trying to come up with ways of giving these prisoners more out-of-cell time but it is extremely difficult due to the set-up of Mountjoy.
“It’s not something that we’ll stop doing. We’ll continue to work at it, but it has been acknowledged there are some significant difficulties there.
The report’s launch also heard from the newly appointed Inspector of Prisons who said she was “shocked” at the level of mental illness she found among prisoners when she took the position.
Ms Gilheaney said on Friday she had visited all 12 of the country’s prisons and was taken aback by the number of inmates with severe mental illnesses.
Earlier this year, the outgoing director general of the Irish Prison Service Michael Donnellan said out of the some 4,000 prisoners in custody, 140 (3.6 per cent) had a psychotic disorder and 170 (4.3) had a mood disorder.
Other sources indicated the rate of mental illness among prisoners may be even higher. According to the World Health Organisation, 10-15 per cent of prisoners worldwide suffer from serious, long-term mental illnesses.
According to the IPRT’s report, Ireland has only two beds for mentally ill prisoners per 100,000 head of population. Other European Countries have 5-15 per 100,000.
The Central Mental Hospital (CMH), which treats mentally ill prisoners, is currently full with 22 severely ill inmates on the waiting list for a bed.
A new facility to replace the CMH is expected to open by 2020 in Portrane, Co Dublin. However, this will increase the number of beds to only 3.5 per 100,000, the report notes.
The ratio of psychiatrists to prisoners is also well below international best practice standards, the IPRT said.
Ms Gilheaney said she agreed with the report’s findings and said “more has to be done”.
She also spoke of the need to resource the Office of the Inspector of Prisons properly to allow it to fulfil its mandate.
It is understood there are plans for the office to expand into inspecting and evaluating all places of detention, including cells in Garda stations and courthouses but this is dependent on it receiving additional funding.