Prisoners swallowed batteries and blades, records show

Prison Service figures show why inmates go to hospital, and which jails are involved

Of the 73 hospitalisations due to injuries from assaults, fights and altercations involving prisoners between January 2014 and September 2016, 34 were from Mountjoy

Of the 73 hospitalisations due to injuries from assaults, fights and altercations involving prisoners between January 2014 and September 2016, 34 were from Mountjoy

 

Prisoners were hospitalised after swallowing or otherwise ingesting everything from batteries and parts of an electric razor to glass and the contents of an ice pack, new records show.

Figures released to The Irish Times by the Irish Prison Service (IPS) also reveal that almost half of all inmates taken to hospital following an actual or suspected assault came from Mountjoy Prison.

Of the 73 hospitalisations due to injuries from assaults, fights and altercations involving prisoners between January 2014 and September 2016, 34 were from Mountjoy. It includes one confirmed stabbing incident.

The data, compiled for the first time last year on foot of a Freedom of Information request from The Irish Times, probably underestimates the number of hospitalisations caused by attacks in prisons across the State as it is not possible to categorise every injury correctly.

For instance, cuts were cited as the reason for 18 hospital transfers from Mountjoy during the 33-month period. These could have been caused by accidents, self-infliction or by slash attacks using improvised weapons known as “shivs”.

There were 53 hospitalisations due to lacerations from all of the State’s prisons over the period. The most serious resulted in disfigurements to the face and eyes.

Allegations of sexual assault accounted for just one hospitalisation, in Cork in June 2015. One prisoner was given emergency treatment on the fourth day of a hunger strike in Limerick in December of that year.

Swallowing blades

Elsewhere, prisons nationwide report 34 people going to hospital for drug-related incidents including overdoses and needle injuries, most from Mountjoy and Limerick.

Mountjoy also had the highest number (21) of hospitalisations due to self-harm.

Outside treatment was sought for five attempted suicides in the State’s largest prison, with a further five suicide attempts at other detention facilities.

Hospitalisation after swallowing blades, contraband or other potentially harmful substances were common across the State’s prisons. It appeared to be a particular issue in Limerick where 15 people were taken to hospital due to swallowing/ingestion incidents.

Prisoners often attempt to smuggle drugs and weapons into or around the buildings by swallowing or hiding them in body cavities, and blade swallowing of blades was also noted as a method of attempted self-harm in some cases.

Inmates from across the country were taken to hospital 41 times after swallowing or ingesting items or substances over the 33 months.

The Midlands Prison in Portlaoise registered by far the highest number of people being taken to hospital of any facility around the State over the last three years with 4,256 permitted absences – nearly twice the number from Mountjoy.

Prisoners at Arbour Hill had the most repeat hospital visits with 163 inmates accounting for 1,062 absences, an average of almost seven each. Rejections of medical transfer requests were extremely rare with around 1 per cent of the 16,000 recorded nationwide turned down.