herald

Monday 11 December 2017

3,500 jail weapons seized by warders

A massive amount of makeshift weapons have been seized in Irish jails
A massive amount of makeshift weapons have been seized in Irish jails

More than 3,500 makeshift daggers and other deadly weapons have been seized by prison officers in Irish jails in the past five years - an average of two a day.

Last year alone, 435 weapons were recovered from inmates serving time in the state's network of 14 prisons, new figures have revealed.

The most commonly seized weapons are makeshift daggers, typically fashioned from blades or sharpened objects attached to small handles made from toothbrushes or pens.

These are easily concealed and can potentially be used to cause catastrophic injuries to prison officers or other inmates.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that 3,687 weapons were seized in prisons between 2012 and 2016, averaging 14 per week over the five-year period.

However, the number of weapons found has been significantly reduced in recent years as the Irish Prison Service (IPS) has taken steps to combat contraband entering the system.

In 2012, a total of 1,126 weapons were recovered throughout the prison network - but the number has fallen in each of the intervening years to a five-year low of 435 in 2016.

Last year, the largest quantity of deadly weapons was seized from inmates at Wheatfield Prison, where 104 potentially lethal items were confiscated.

Some of Ireland's most notorious gangland criminals are detained at Wheatfield, including several members of the Hutch family, and murderer Jonathan 'Yuka' Douglas.

Contraband

Earlier this month, it was reported that a state-of-the-art drone had crash-landed on the roof of the prison after being used to smuggle contraband into the exercise yard.

The next-highest haul of weapons was seized at Castlerea Prison in Co Roscommon, where 89 blades and other items were confiscated, followed by Limerick Prison, where 69 weapons were found.

None were seized at the Dochas Centre, where female offenders are jailed, or at Arbour Hill, a medium-security prison.

In 2015, two unarmed prison officers were hospitalised following a violent attack by an inmate using an improvised weapon at Mountjoy Prison.

The IPS subsequently launched a confidential hotline for prisoners and their families to report concerns about weapons and other contraband entering the prison system.

A spokesperson for the service said: "Improvised weapons are the most commonly seized type of weapon.

"Since 2008, the IPS has made extensive efforts to reduce the flow of contraband into prisons."

The heightened measures include the establishment of a dedicated group of staff in May 2008, the introduction of security screening areas in all closed prisons and the introduction of a canine unit, increased searching of cells and their occupants, and the installation of nets over exercise yards.

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