Rethink on prisoner visits by unrelated children requested

Committee tasked with reviewing Wheatfield conditions warn drugs are an ongoing issue

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said the inspector of prisons Judge Michael Reilly had recently completed an assessment of culture within the Irish Prison Service, the recommendations of which are currently under consideration. File photograph: Garrett White/Collins

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said the inspector of prisons Judge Michael Reilly had recently completed an assessment of culture within the Irish Prison Service, the recommendations of which are currently under consideration. File photograph: Garrett White/Collins

 

Prison authorities should reconsider allowing children who are not related to inmates to visit due to ongoing issues with drugs, an inspection team has reported.

The committee tasked with reviewing conditions at Wheatfield Prison in Dublin warned drugs were an “ongoing” problem, aggravated by staff shortages. It also found sniffer dogs were falsely identifying people as carrying contraband.

On the issue of prison visits, the Wheatfield committee 2014 annual report, published on Tuesday, said the visiting area was “often abused as a gateway for drugs”.

“The committee feels that bringing in children that are not related to inmates should be reviewed. There are only two officers observing live visits. In order to really tackle the drugs issue, this number should increase.”

Regular feature

Drugs in prisons are a regular feature of annual reports released by inspection committees. The five-member team examining Wheatfield every month also conducts an unannounced visit and meets with prisoners in private to assess needs and concerns.

It said more external netting was required in the prison yard to help prevent drugs being thrown over the walls and commented on a previous, unsuccessful attempt to fly them in using a drone.

But prisoner visits remain the principal area of concern. Those arriving at the facility pass through several security screenings, including an X-ray for belongings.

“There has been an issue with the dog unit regarding false positive indications. The committee believe that the dog unit has undergone a retraining programme and more dogs will come on stream in the future,” the report said.

Visiting area

“Vulnerable prisoners and visitors can be bullied and threatened to bring in drugs. With all the precautions put in place, drugs still enter the prison system. The visiting area seems to be the weakest area as it is often busy and understaffed.”

However, the inspection report for the year is broadly positive on conditions and while praising staff commitment, it notes that largely due to cuts, “morale at this time does not seem to be good and this will have a negative effect on prisoners”.

In response to that issue, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said the inspector of prisons Judge Michael Reilly had recently completed an assessment of culture within the Irish Prison Service, the recommendations of which are currently under consideration.

Transfer delay

Ms Fitzgerald defended a finding in the Wheatfield report regarding a delay in transferring some juvenile inmates, formerly of St Patrick’s Institution, to a new facility at Oberstown which, she said, is a process under way since March, in line with new Government policy.

The committee suggested 17- and 18-year-old prisoners should be assessed for conditions such as dyslexia and ADHD, while they might also benefit from anger management and empathy courses.

“There is an issue regarding inmates looking to see the psychologist as there is a backlog in prisoners requiring their services,” the report noted, otherwise complimenting the department as an “integral part of prisoners’ healthcare” in a stressful environment which proves difficult for many to cope with.