Prison discipline and cutting remission review under way, says Minister
Prison Officers’ Association wants sanctions and loss of remission used to impose order
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said “sanctions up to and including the loss of remission should be imposed if appropriate”. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
Prisoners may be more likely to have their terms of imprisonment extended for violent or disruptive behaviour under a review of prison discipline now under way.
The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) has said its members were being attacked, and even sexually assaulted, yet those prisoners responsible were not losing remission.
However, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and director general of the Irish Prison Service Michael Donnellan have both said the issue would be examined as part of the new review of prison discipline this year.
In the Republic, all prisoners are automatically entitled to 25 per cent of their sentence off as remission. While it is regarded as “time off for good behaviour” it is an automatic right. However, periods of 14 days can be taken off remission as punishment for serious disciplinary issues, including assaults on prison officers.
The POA is unhappy that in recent years the practice of imposing such a sanction has become very rare. They want it to be used again and believe if prisoners are repeatedly troublesome they should lose a lot of their remission and serve additional weeks or months as a result.
Loss of remission
“We are in agreement on this issue, that sanctions up to and including the loss of remission should be imposed if appropriate,” Mr Flanagan told the POA annual conference in Kilkenny.
He added while there may be a perception that the policies around the loss of remission had changed in recent years, this was not the case.
The POA accepts the official policy has not changed in that prisoners can lose remission. But it says the practice of using that disciplinary option has effectively ceased across the prison system.
Informed security sources said the prison service planned to remind prison governors that imposing a 14-day loss of remission was still a sanction that could be used.
The officers’ association explained that in one case a female officer had been grabbed from behind by the hair and violently flung against a wall. In another case, a female officer had had her breast deliberately grabbed in an attack by a prisoner. And it said since it had met at conference last year there had been a series of attacks on its members. In some cases officers had been physically injured, spat at and had urine thrown over them. In one case an officer had had his car petrol bombed.
Mr Donnellan said prisoners could be dealt with under the prisons’ disciplinary process, with sanctions ranging from a loss of remission to a loss of privileges in jail or the Garda could be called in to investigate.
Meanwhile, the POA also raised the issue of prison gangs with Mr Flanagan, saying they were becoming a serious problem.
Some, it said, were ordering murders and arranging drug deals outside the prison walls from their cells.
The POA has called for all serious gangland criminals involved in prison gangs to be moved to the maximum-security Portlaoise Prison. Its members were under attack from prisoners and should have more specialist equipment such as body-worn cameras, attack dogs, batons and shields.
However, Mr Donnellan said the Irish Prison Service “would never be fearful of taking on gangs” in prisons.
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.
But POA president John Clinton said that in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, alone there were 30 factions.
Mr Donnellan said there were 10 gangs within the prison system, with about 100 prisoners aligned to them. A further estimated 100 prisoners were more loosely aligned to the 10 gangs, he said.