Prison gang culture is growing fast - officers


GANG CULTURE in prisons is growing faster than at any time in the past decade, with over 1,000 inmates now being held in segregation to keep rival gang members apart, the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) has said.

The POA wants mace spray to be introduced so officers can deal more effectively with “vicious” gang violence. The association said many of the biggest and most notorious gangs in the Republic whose members are in jail are now using low security inmates to smuggle in drugs for them because they believe they are “under the radar” of prison staff checking for drugs.

POA president Jim Mitchell said gang members were more violent than ever. There was “prisoner on prisoner” and “prisoner on prison officer” violence in the shape of stabbings and assaults. This was of “immense concern”.

The need to keep inmates safe and to minimise conflict between gang rivals meant over 1,000 of the 4,000-plus prison population were in protective segregation, Mr Mitchell told the POA annual conference in Killarney, Co Kerry.

Gang members and those being protected from gangs were housed in wings of jails where many were locked up for 23 hours a day.

He said rows within organised crime gangs were spreading into the prison population. Prison officers were now under immense pressure to use the resources they had to run a segregation project across the prison system.

The prison environment had also become a “proving ground” for criminals, where their ability to “protect their drugs patch” was honed and tested.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said handling gangs in prisons was complex, but he did not believe gangs dominated any jail.

Mr Mitchell feared the spread of the gang culture to St Pat’s meant young criminals would become entrenched within gangs. This did not bode well for Irish society or the prison service for future years. He said overcrowding could be alleviated if fewer fine defaulters were jailed.

Mr Ahern said the enactment of the Fines Bill shortly would end the practice of jailing defaulters.

Mr Mitchell said Kathleen McMahon, governor of the women’s Dóchas Centre in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison, had opted to leave her post citing overcrowding and dangerous conditions. Her departure underlined the issues facing the service, he said.