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Jail overcrowding could end in death

The powder-keg that is Mountjoy jail blew up again in the faces of those responsible for keeping it in check.

Seventy-four prisoners gave up yet another protest only when confronted by more than 130 officers in riot gear with Alsatian dogs. But, by then, three officers and one prisoner had been injured at the Dickensian jail and a criminal damage bill running into thousands was left behind.

The standoff is the third in recent months where the "get tough" policy of the new Governor has been applauded on the outside.

But the danger remains that a prison officer may end up paying with his life unless an effective strategy to deal with the underlying issues in Mountjoy is put in place.

Last night, officers were convinced that an attempt was being made in the initial attack to take an officer hostage.

The executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust Liam Herrick said that what had happened was "forseeable".

He urged the Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern to put a strategy in place to address overcrowding, which has already led to many authorities labelling the prison as unsafe.

The release of people down the crime ladder -- those being jailed of non payment of fines, for example -- might ease the pressure. Meanwhile, the prison management faces a logistical nightmare trying to keep the various warring factions of prisoners apart while keeping them out of society.

Last year in his latest report Prison Inspector Judge Reilly said Mountjoy can accommodate 573 inmates but when he visited on two nights, the population was 660 and 680.

He said: "Mountjoy Prison cannot, at present, provide safe and secure custody for its prisoners. It is questionable as to whether the prison provides a safe environment for staff."