Dáil Éireann - Volume 649 - 04 March, 2008

Written Answers. - Drugs in Prisons.

Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps he will take to end the flow of drugs to prisons, in view of the disclosure that inmates have tested positive for drugs 40,000 times over the past three years; the prisons or places of detention that are regarded as drug free; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8967/08]

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: Over the past 10 years a wide range of security measures have been put in place aimed at reducing the supply of contraband, including drugs, into our prisons. These measures include:

Tighter control and monitoring of prisoner visits in all closed prisons;

New visiting arrangements in most closed prisons, with visitors required to be pre-approved by the Governor and required to provide identification on each visit;

Greater use of screened visits;

Greater vigilance in examining mail by prison censors and searching of other items entering the prison;

Increased random searching of cells and their occupants;

[153] Stricter searching of all persons committed to custody and prisoners returning from court, temporary release, after visits or on receipt of intelligence;

Use of modern cameras and probe systems which assist in searching previously difficult areas such as hollow chair or bed legs, under floor boards and other cavities;

Installation of nets over exercise yards to prevent access to contraband items, including mobile phones and drugs; and

Use of phone detectors and phased installation of telephone blocking technology.

In addition, a number of new security initiatives are shortly being introduced in all closed prisons including:

The introduction of enhanced security screening for all persons (visitors and staff) entering our prisons;

The establishment of a drug detection dog service within the Irish Prison Service involving approximately 30 handling teams; and

The establishment of Operational Support Units dedicated to and developing expertise in searching and gathering intelligence on illicit material being hidden inside our prisons; they will be available in addition to the normal prison staff and can target specific security problem areas.

There are currently drug free units in the following prisons — Wheatfield Prison, St. Patrick’s Institution, Castlerea Prison and Mountjoy Prison. There is also an intensive detox programme in operation in Mountjoy Prison. Allied to this the Training Unit, Arbour Hill Prison, Loughan House and Shelton Abbey are regarded as drug free institutions.

The Prison Rules 2007 which came into operation in October 2007 gave effect to section 35(2)(j) of the Prisons Act, 2007 which provides for “testing prisoners for intoxicants including alcohol and other drugs”. Mandatory drug testing provides information on trends in drug misuse, enables the identification and referral of drug abusers to treatment programmes, enables enhanced focusing of resources and acts as a deterrent to drug misuse. Mandatory Drug testing will also serve to provide important information to prison management that will contribute significantly to decision making in relation to the management of individual prisoners’ sentences. At present, mandatory drug testing takes place in the Training Unit, St. Patrick’s Institution, Castlerea Prison, Loughan House and Shelton Abbey. All prisoners must be drug free to attend an open centre and the intention is to roll out a programme of testing to the remaining institutions during 2008.