Mountjoy report scathing on prison conditions

 

MOUNTJOY PRISON is now so overcrowded that conditions have become “degrading”. The smuggling of drugs and mobile phones to inmates is also continuing despite new searching measures, an unpublished visiting committee report on the jail has concluded.

The report, which has just been submitted to Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern, also highlights the emerging gang culture across the prison system. It says overcrowding is so bad it is difficult for staff to keep rival gang members away from each other.

It is also highly critical of the practice of many prisoners being kept locked in cells on a 24-hour basis in “semi-dark, depressing” conditions in a prison with a cockroach problem.

The report says when its members visited Mountjoy throughout last year, it often saw “as many as 10 or 11” prisoners in holding cells in the basement waiting to have their disciplinary cases reviewed by the governor. “It is a degrading spectacle,” the report notes.

The committee was highly critical of the Department of Justice, saying its requests for information and meetings on various issues were ignored by the department and the Minister’s office.

However, it describes as “very professional” and “progressive” the staff and management at the prison. The report particularly praises staff who dealt with a riot last July, when workshops and recreation areas were destroyed, saying they should be “recognised in a suitable manner”.

On drugs in prison, the report says that while the new search procedures have reduced their availability, some inmates experiencing an interruption in their supply were finding ingenious ways of overcoming withdrawal symptoms. “Due to the large reduction in drug availability in prison, ‘toothache’ has become a common complaint.”

The new search measures that have been phased in include searching staff and visitors entering the jail.

Sniffer dogs are used to find contraband and airport-style X-ray scanners and metal detectors have also been installed.

However, despite this, “there are still serious loopholes” leading to contraband finding its way in.

“There is still far too much drugs in Mountjoy and still too much pressure on prisoners to partake in drug supply and use. All entrants to the prison should be subjected to these [search measures], with no exceptions. Otherwise it becomes of little benefit, as is evidenced by the continued supply, although reduced, of drugs and phones into the prison.”

On overcrowding, the committee asks why Mountjoy was at times at 113 per cent capacity last year while other prisons were at just 60 per cent.

Prisoners had to sleep on the floor of cells not suitable for human habitation. Some were being locked up for 23 or 24 hours a day.

The report suggests some prison sentences could be postponed and recommends that courts impose more non-custodial sentences.