Vi­o­lent pris­oner unit gets ready for first in­mates

Four of Ire­land’s most dan­ger­ous pris­on­ers se­lected for ¤2.7m spe­cial­ist fa­cil­ity

The Irish Times - - Home News - CONOR LALLY

Four pris­on­ers with records of ex­treme vi­o­lence who are cur­rently be­ing moved around jails sur­rounded by riot shield bar­ri­ers are be­ing sent to a new ¤2.7 mil­lion spe­cial­ist unit.

The Na­tional Vi­o­lence Re­duc­tion Unit is set to re­ceive its first pris­oner as early as next week. Five pris­on­ers with a high propen­sity for ex­treme vi­o­lence have been se­lected for trans­fer into the unit at the Mid­lands Prison, Port­laoise.

They have proven so vi­o­lent serv­ing their sen­tences that prison staff have been forced to deal with them ex­clu­sively through “bar­rier han­dling”.

This means when they are be­ing taken any­where within a jail a team of prison of­fi­cers in riot gear sur­rounds them with riot shields.

Head of the Ir­ish Prison Ser­vice Michael Don­nel­lan said this way of deal­ing with the most vi­o­lent pris­on­ers in the sys­tem was not work­ing. Some­thing new was re­quired, and the soon-to-be-opened vi­o­lent pris­oner unit aimed to take a more in­tense and pro­gres­sive ap­proach.

The unit was a ther­a­peu­tic ini­tia­tive, he said, which would be co-man­aged by a se­nior psy­chol­o­gist and an as­sis­tant prison gover­nor.

Spe­cial train­ing

Psy­chol­o­gists would work daily with prison of­fi­cers who had ap­plied to work on the new unit and had un­der­gone spe­cial train­ing.

One of the main aims was to en­sure staff quickly un­der­stood the trig­gers and warn­ing signs of each pris­oner’s vi­o­lence so they could in­ter­vene be­fore any at­tack or out­burst oc­curred.

Even­tu­ally, the psy­chol­o­gists and prison of­fi­cers would also help the pris­on­ers un­der­stand the rea­sons for their vi­o­lent be­hav­iour so they could be­gin to self-man­age it. Pris­on­ers be­ing trans­ferred into the new unit must meet spe­cial cri­te­ria that con­firms their sta­tus as be­ing among the five to 10 most vi­o­lent pris­on­ers in Ire­land’s near 4,000 prison pop­u­la­tion.

Mr Don­nel­lan added some spe­cial units had been es­tab­lished in jails such as Clover­hill and Moun­tjoy, both in Dublin, for pris­on­ers with men­tal health prob­lems. But the unit in the mid­lands was specif­i­cally for ex­tremely vi­o­lent pris­on­ers.

Be­cause of that, prison of­fi­cers would wear body cam­eras and would, for the first time in the prison ser­vice in the mod­ern era, carry a ba­ton.

Th­ese ad­di­tional pre­cau­tions, Mr Don­nel­lan said, were needed be­cause staff would wear reg­u­lar uni­forms rather than riot gear.

“It’s rea­son­able from a risk per­spec­tive that they wear a ba­ton,” he said, adding the ba­ton, or Asp, would be hid­den.

Mr Don­nel­lan added the open­ing of the unit on a phased ba­sis from next week fol­lowed three years of preparations.

Re­duced risk

Best prac­tice in­ter­na­tion­ally was stud­ied, and the ap­proach be­ing taken with the new fa­cil­ity was based very much on the British sys­tem of man­ag­ing the most dis­rup­tive pris­on­ers.

Mr Don­nel­lan toured the new unit yes­ter­day with Min­is­ter for Jus­tice Char­lie Flana­gan, with the me­dia also given an op­por­tu­nity to ex­am­ine the fa­cil­ity.

Mr Flana­gan said the unit would re­duce the risk posed by the small group of vi­o­lent pris­on­ers to other in­mates and prison staff, as well as the com­mu­nity they would even­tu­ally be re­leased into.

“This is in­no­va­tion,” he said of the new unit, which can take a max­i­mum of 10 pris­on­ers from jails through the coun­try.

“It’s cut­ting edge and it’s in­ter­na­tional best prac­tice com­ing to Ire­land,” he said, adding a new ap­proach had to be taken to “se­ri­ous dis­rup­tive and vi­o­lent pris­on­ers”.

The Pris­oner Of­fi­cers’ As­so­ci­a­tion has long com­plained of a very small num­ber of pris­on­ers who have long posed an acute safety risk to their staff.

While the prison ser­vice would not com­ment on the iden­tity of five pris­on­ers al­ready se­lected for the new unit, The Ir­ish Times un­der­stands one is Alan El­lis.

Re­peated at­tacks

The 25-year-old is serv­ing a six-year sen­tence for tor­tur­ing a 14-year-old. In prison he has slashed prison of­fi­cers and also stabbed a men­tal health pro­fes­sional.

Leon Wright, a 30-year-old Dubliner with over 100 con­vic­tions, was also ex­pected to be sent to the unit. Many prison of­fi­cers re­gard him as Ire­land’s most dan­ger­ous pris­oner af­ter re­peated at­tacks on prison staff and gar­daí.

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: COLIN KEE­GAN/COLLINS

Clock­wise from main pho­to­graph: The new Na­tional Vi­o­lence Re­duc­tion Unit in the Mid­lands Prison, Port­laoise, the body cam­eras to be worn by prison staff, and the CCTV sys­tem in use in the spe­cial fa­cil­ity.

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