Mountjoy inmates being forced to sleep in showers

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PRISONERS IN Mountjoy are now being accommodated in shower units due to severe overcrowding, it has emerged.

Chaplains and prison officers say record numbers have being placed in the facility in recent weeks, due to an increase in crime and a lack of prison places. Up to 670 prisoners were accommodated this week in the jail whose bed capacity is officially about 540.

On a regular basis over the past fortnight, prisoners have been forced to sleep in shower units, according to the Prison Officers' Association (POA), while others are being accommodated in a reception area.

The situation is now significantly worse than in 2006 when 21-year-old inmate Garry Douche was killed by a fellow prisoner in an incident linked to overcrowding. At that time, there were some 570 prisoners in the facility.

Jim Mitchell of the POA said overcrowding was creating a "powder keg" environment, with a significantly higher risk of violence. "It's chaos management, putting more prisoners behind closed doors that the system can cope with, and hoping they're alive in the morning," he said.

In the past year, there have been two serious riots in Mountjoy which involved significant levels of criminal damage and targeting of prison staff.

The Irish Prison Service confirmed yesterday prisoners have been held overnight in the shower areas for "operational reasons", but insisted this would cease after it was raised with the governor.

In a statement to The Irish Times, it said: "Mountjoy is the main committal prison for the entire State. It has to be acknowledged that the Irish Prison Service must accept all prisoners committed by the courts and we do not have the option of putting up 'house full' or 'no vacancies' signs."

A spokesman said there were contingency plans in place to deal with peak population numbers and that while the bed capacity was 540, the prison was capable of accommodating well in excess of that figure.

The regime at the almost 160-year-old prison, has often been criticised for chronic overcrowding and lack of toilet facilities, which forces prisoners to "slop out" on a regular basis.

Overcrowding is an issue right across the prison system. Yesterday, there were was 3,895 prisoners in custody compared to a bed capacity of 3,642, representing an occupancy level of 107 per cent.

The Irish Prison Service said there has been a consistent increase in the total prisoner population over recent years, with increased committals from the courts.

News of the acute pressure on the prison system comes just weeks after talks broke down with a consortium to build a new 2,200-bed "super prison" at Thornton Hall, aimed at alleviating chronic overcrowding.

In the meantime, prison authorities say the opening of a number of new blocks in Castlerea, Portlaoise and Wheatfield prisons over the coming months will result in an additional 400 prison spaces.

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