PRISON officers at the Midlands and Portlaoise prisons seized over 1,500 illegal items, including nearly 200 weapons, over the past two years.
In the newer Midlands Prison which holds 600 men, 166 weapons were confiscated along with almost 1,000 other illegal items. Portlaoise Prison, which has a a capacity for 400 prisoners including those on high security, had 385 items seized.
The articles seized include mobile phones, drugs, phone chargers, alcohol, SIM cards and cash. Weapons tend to be improvised tools or ‘shivs’ such as pieces of perspex or sharpened toothbrushes, a pool ball in a sock, brush handles or water jugs, according to the Irish Prison Service.
With staff numbers falling by 21 in the past year, concerns for the safety of prison officers have been voiced by the President of the Prison Officers Association.
“Staff levels are always a concern, particularly for front line services.
“What is alarming and worrying is the amount of weapons confiscated, logic would tell you that obviously not everything is found. The staff are doing a tremendous job, but they are facing the threat of assaults and injuries on a daily basis,” Stephen Delaney told the Leinster Express.
He says that prison officers have co-operated fully with the extra security measures introduced by the Irish Prison Service in 2008, which include extra screening of visitors and staff, a drug detection dog service, a new intelligence unit to discover illicit items, and increased random searches.
“Every means should be taken, but as in outside society, the level of violence is on the increase. We know management are doing everything possible to reduce risk, but it’s a unique job. There is almost an expectation that you could be hurt or injured carrying out your daily tasks,” Mr Delaney said.
The Government has set the prison service a target payroll reduction of €21m, and an analysis is now underway to see how each prison can be run more efficiently.
“They key point for our association is protection for our members on the ground floor,” Mr Delaney said.
Figures released by the Dept of Justice show that drugs and weapons made up more than quarter of the 15,000 items confiscated in Ireland’s 14 prisons since 2010.