Belfast Telegraph

'Money no excuse' for jail crowding

Prison chiefs have been warned that it is no longer good enough to blame a lack of money for overcrowding and 23-hour lock-up in Mountjoy Prison.

A special Visiting Committee said it is astounding that prisoners with only one hour free association or exercise can secure constant supplies of illegal drugs and tablets.

In its report for Justice Minister Alan Shatter, the group warned that the level of inmates becoming hooked on substances must be tackled decisively.

"The incidences of prisoners becoming addicted in Mountjoy must be dealt with in a decisive manner. A drug-free environment has got to be seriously worked on," the committee said. It also criticised the visiting regime and warned that better vigilance was needed to stop the passing of tablets to inmates.

While stating that the long-running problem of overcrowding is very serious and inevitably causes tension, the group also said more psychiatric care beds are needed in Mountjoy, the probation service is inadequate and welfare services non-existent.

The 2011 review said the committee had seen many improvements and adopted a wait-and-see approach to persistent overcrowding but added: "It is nonetheless difficult to observe, too many people confined in small spaces for up to 23 hours per day."

It called for refurbishment to be accelerated and urged authorities to look for more alternatives for jail.

Mr Shatter said Mountjoy's C Division has been refurbished to provide in-cell sanitation with similar work to be carried out in B Division taking the total number of cells with toilets to 317. A "drug-free section" has also been built in C Division.

Other findings were that medical needs were not being met in Mountjoy, prisoners with poor mental health were still being held in isolation cells, in some cases for weeks, which may be detrimental to their well-being.

Other reports were also carried out in Cork and Wheatfield and in Cloverhill where a committee noted that the jail had 56 more prisoners than capacity on its worst day in 2011.

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