Some prison officers ignore gang activities, judge says

Workers criticise Judge Michael Reilly for offering unsubstantiated opinions in report

Prison officers have criticised the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, for offering unsubstantiated opinions after he concluded in a report that some officers engage in inappropriate behaviour.

Judge Reilly also said some officers “prefer to turn a blind eye” to the activities of gangs in prisons.

The judge's report, An overview of the culture of the Irish Prison Service, describes a system with no clear plan for tackling stronger prisoners who form gangs inside jails or those who take their existing gang affiliations into prison.

He said the the lack of a “meaningful” risk and vulnerability assessment of prisoners had “allowed the development of gang cultures” in a number of Irish prisons.


"Prisoners who refuse to concede to the demand of gang leaders are put under pressure and may be subject to physical violence," says the new report, compiled by Judge Reilly and international prisons expert Prof Andrew Coyle.

“Some individual staff members appear to be at a loss as to how to manage the problems of disorder which result and prefer to turn a blind eye to the gang activities,” it states, “with the victims of violence being transferred to other prisons rather than the perpetrators.”

Review matter

Minister for Justice

Frances Fitzgerald

has asked the director general of the Irish Prison Service,

Michael Donnellan

, to review the matter of gangs in prison and report back to her.

The existence of prison gangs had been a major concern of the Prison Officers Association for more than a decade, said deputy general secretary Jim Mitchell.

“Hopefully, the Irish Prison Service will now take note of this most serious and potentially explosive development within our prison system,” he said.

The association took exception to the report’s description of the appointments process within the service as “closed”, noting it resulted in personnel coming from “a remarkably homogenous background with very little diversity of any kind”.

According to the report, this results in a “narrow world view”.

“We heard of staff frequently using improper and inappropriate language to each other and to prisoners,” wrote Judge Reilly and Prof Coyle, a former prison governor in the UK.

Conform demands

“The demands to conform in a uniform manner whatever the circumstances are overpowering with severe personal repercussions not only against the individual concerned but also against his or her family for those who step out of line either by refusing to take part in inappropriate behaviour or by drawing it to the attention of superiors.

“What was particularly disturbing was the apparent unwillingness or inability of those to whom such matters were reported to take corrective action, thus leaving staff who object to inappropriate behaviour by colleagues with the clear message that there is little to be gained and a lot to be lost personally by reporting the matter.”

Mr Mitchell said the association was surprised at these comments, which he said would be “more valid” if supported by some evidence.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times