Prison watchdog calls for unannounced cell searches after heroin find

Mother told governor she first heard of death of her son on Facebook, report shows

Patricia  Gilheaney recommended that the IPS should improve the regime for protection prisoners and make every effort to safeguard their mental health. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

Patricia Gilheaney recommended that the IPS should improve the regime for protection prisoners and make every effort to safeguard their mental health. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

 

The State’s prison watchdog has called for regular unannounced drug searches at jails after 22 separate heroin wraps were found in a cell at Mountjoy prison where an inmate was found unresponsive two years ago.

After being found unresponsive in his cell at 8.05am on June 15th 2018, the 31-year-old man never regained consciousness and died 10 days later on June 25th at the Mater hospital.

Following his removal to hospital, gardaí searched the cell and found 22 small heroin wraps.

In her report concerning the death in custody of the prisoner, Inspector of Prisons, Patricia Gilheaney recommended the Irish Prison Service (IPS) should carry out regular routine and unannounced cell searches for illicit material.

The IPS accepted the recommendation and stated, “Insofar as resources allow, targeted – cell specific – and general area searches of prisons occur with the aim of retrieving contraband”.

Last year, authorities at Mountjoy made 237 separate drug seizures at the prison and 221 in 2018.

The prisoner had been jailed in February 2018 for a drug-related offence and was due for release on November 8th, 2018.

The man did not seek any treatment for drug problems during his time in custody and on committal he denied any history of illicit drug use and he was not identified as anyone who required intervention.

The man requested to be put on protection for his own safety and was placed on B3 Wing of Mountjoy which accommodates prisoners on protection.

Ms Gilheaney recommended that the IPS should improve the regime for protection prisoners and make every effort to safeguard their mental health by maximising opportunities for social interactions with other prisoners, staff and visitors.

Ms Gilheaney also recommended that Mountjoy reduce the number of prisoners on protection at the prison.

The IPS responded that a reduction in the numbers of prisoners on protection would necessitate the removal of a prisoner’s entitlement to self request protection.

The IPS stated it is actively considering this part of a review of the relevant prison rule.

The man’s mother informed a prison governor that she learned on Facebook that her son had died.

In response, “Governor A” reported a number of prisoners may have put information on Facebook and may have contacted family members prior to official notification from the prison chaplain. The governor stated that unfortunately due to the prevalence of illicit mobile phones it was difficult to prevent a reoccurrence.

The deceased man’s family had queried how he could have obtained drugs in prison and suspected a particular visitor may have brought them in for him.

However, the investigation was unable to ascertain how drugs were in the possession of the deceased man.

The family queried why the cameras on the B3 Wing landing were not working and Ms Gilheaney stated while there was nothing to suggest that the inoperable cameras contributed in any way to the prisoner’s death, “this is a very serious matter”.

In response, the IPS stated that it has recently reviewed its CCTV surveillance policy.