LATEST Prison Service to begin drug screening of officers amid plans to tackle contraband
April 28 2022 10:15 AM
Prison officers will soon be screened for illicit drug use as part of a new plan to reduce contraband influence in jails.
The director general of the Irish Prison Service has said that the new plan will be implemented as part of an agreement with the Prison Officers’ Association.
“It is our intention in the short and medium term that we will introduce testing because we need to be honest, in every cross section of society there are people who engage in drug taking behaviour, and it would be naive of us to think that within the cohort of prison officers there are people who are not taking drugs,” said Caron McCaffrey.
“We’re certainly committed to ensuring that when people turn up for duty they’re not under the influence of drugs because obviously other prison officers are relying on them for their safety. And also there would be the concern that if a prison officer is engaging in drug taking, they’re potentially engaging with criminals in terms of sourcing those drugs. So it is an issue of concern to us,” she added.
The Prison Service said it has also visited Shannon Airport to examine a full body scanner to see if something similar could be used for scanning visitors.
The problem of drugs being brought into prisons by families and friends of inmates is still a challenge, and the Prison Service has said it is always looking at new technology to try and reduce the quantities of drugs getting into jails.
“We’ve introduced some new technology. We have a very successful anti-drone system that we implemented originally as a pilot, which has now been rolled out to six of our closed prisons.
“We’ve recently introduced ion scanners like the ones in Dublin airport where you’re swapped for explosives, but we’re now swabbing visitors to prisons for drug residue. And if you are identified as having been in contact with drugs, you’re not allowed to proceed with an open visit.
“We’re also at all times looking at new technology and we know there are new generation body scanners and in places, specifically in Shannon airport. We’ve been to look at those and our intention is to try one of those new generation body scanners in the new Limerick facility when it opens later on this year,” said Ms McCaffrey.
“We have an operational support group whose specific role is to gather intelligence on criminal gangs and to thwart efforts in relation to the smuggling of drugs and contraband into our prisons. You’ll know we’ve had some very big successes in terms of thwarting the trafficking of significant amounts of drugs into Mountjoy specifically. In November 2020 we discovered a very significant haul of drugs worth about €170,000 on a delivery intended for the prison. In October of last year we had a very significant find within the prison of drugs to a value of about €140,000.”
Ms McCaffrey said around 70pc of people that go to prison arrive with an active drug or alcohol addiction.
“We see their time in custody as an opportunity to deal with that addiction. So we have a huge amount of services, drug treatment services within our prisons. But obviously in order to encourage people to engage in drug treatment, we need to do everything we can to stop the flow of drugs into our prison,” she said.
In relation to the problem of overcrowding in prisons, Ms McCaffrey said there has been a significant rise in certain categories of prisoners over the last number of years which puts pressure on some prisons particularly.
“If you look at 2015 there were 450 people on remand in Irish prisons. Today it’s almost 950 people on remand, which is about 23pc of our population. So obviously that’s having a significant impact. We only have one dedicated remand facility in the state that has a bed capacity of 431. We’re about to start planning for a new capital strategy for the prison service. So certainly remand accommodation will be a central part of that,” she said.
“Another area we’ve seen a significant increases in relation to sex offenders. In 2015 sex offenders made up 11pc of the prison population. Today sex offenders make up 15pc of the prison population. And if I look specifically at the prisons that are currently experiencing overcrowding Cloverhill, which is the remand, prison is at 101pc of capacity, and the Midlands were we house the majority of our sex offenders is at 99pc of the capacity. So internally what we’re doing is looking at a prisoner progression plan to maximize our accommodation to ensure that we are in a position to facilitate and to provide services for those prisoners and obviously providing treatment to sex offenders is an absolute priority for the Prison Service.”