The Irish prison system has been falling seriously short in meeting the needs of society, its inmates and the conscientious officers who work there. That is the only conclusion to be drawn from reports by Inspector of Prisons Patricia Gilheaney and actions taken by Prison Service director general Caron McCaffrey. The former has warned of readily available drugs and mobile phones and the difficulties in keeping feuding gang members separated. The latter has moved to tighten discipline and impose stricter procedural guidelines because of misconduct by some staff members.
Lack of psychiatric care has been a long-standing complaint, even as the courts continue to send mentally ill offenders to inappropriate prison settings
All of this reflects a steady deterioration in official morale and discipline within prison walls while criminal gangs ramp up their influence, through intimidation and recruitment inside and outside of the system. Gilheaney warns that problems in the country’s 13 prisons reflect the “exponential growth in the number of crime-related gangs and factions throughout the State”. She is concerned that a high-risk, colour-code system used to keep rival gang members separated could add to their growing influence.
The “ready availability” of drugs and mobile phones in prison is singled out for special attention because of the element of control they offer to gang members. Gilheaney urges that entrance points and methods of delivery, such as the use of drones, should be policed in a more effective manner through the use of technology. Sixteen prison deaths took place last year and some families believe drugs were involved. A further seven prisoners died while on temporary release.
Lack of psychiatric care has been a long-standing complaint, even as the courts continue to send mentally ill offenders to inappropriate prison settings. The provision of a new, 120-bed unit at the Central Mental Hospital is incapable of meeting demand. Education and training facilities are inadequate while appointments with psychologists and dentists are sometimes cancelled because officers are not available for escort duty. More funding, better discipline and a joined-up administrative approach are urgently required.