Hygiene conditions in Mountjoy Prison “are not as bad as they used to be, but overcrowding is a massive problem,” according to Mr. Stephan Langton of the Irish Prison Services Visiting Committee.
Mr. Langton stated that conditions are “improving” despite an independent report in 2009. The report stated that Mountjoy Prison’s sanitary system was dehumanising and inhumane.
Mountjoy prison has been immensely criticised in areas such as violence, overcrowding and massive drug problems within the prison over the past two years.
Last month the violence within Mountjoy erupted, and tensions at the prison still remain high. The violence escalated after a prisoner was refused admission into the recreational area. He later returned with more inmates armed with snooker balls and cues, and carried out his attack.
Four men were injured in the riot but did not sustain life threatening injuries. An officer was struck violently in the head with a snooker cue and another officer was viciously hit also in the head with a snooker ball. The culprit received a nine month concurrent sentence for his involvement in sparking the riot.
“Prisoners sophistication in areas such as concealing drugs is overwhelming, we have discovered drugs placed under the seal of envelopes, and placed within clothing, but we are happy with the progress made in combating these problems,” stated Mr. Langton.
Mr. Langton stated that he has proposed “low risk prisoners being incarcerated during the day, and being aloud to go home in the evening to their families,” to the Law Reform Commission. This could considerably reduce the over crowding problem within the prison which was originally designed for 454 prisoners but detains 850.
The Government are aware of the problems which are evident within Mountjoy’s male prison for some time. Thornton hall, which is currently under construction in North County Dublin, is expected to ease overcrowding issues. It is aimed at providing a better infra-structure for prisoners and prison officers.
The Minister for Justice Mr. Dermott Ahern has said that he is determined to see the project through which is estimated to cost the taxpayer €400 million upon completion.
Thornton hall prison will replace Mountjoy Prison within the next number of years. When the prison which is being built in three phases, is complete there will be 1,400 cells with just one inmate to each cell. Mountjoy currently has up to four prisoners to each cell.
The government had hoped that the funding of the new prison would come from the sale of Mountjoy prison, but with the cost of property at an all time low it’s unlikely the sale of Mountjoy will be enough to cover the cost of Thornton Hall. The purchase of the site took place in 2005 and cost the government €30 million.
Fine Gael Spokesman for Justice and Law Reform, Alan Shatter T.D., stated that the type of money wasting and time delay that has characterized the Thornton Hall project from the start makes it difficult to believe any timeline or financial estimate this Government puts forward in regard to building the prison.
“This Government’s ability to waste taxpayer’s money is astounding. Over €42 million has been spent on the Thornton Hall project with almost nothing to show for it. The Thornton Hall project was started in 2005 but the tender for building it will not be put out until next year,” stated Mr. Shatter.
According to the Minister it will be next year before the walls around the prison are completed, and 2014 at the earliest before the first prison buildings are finished. The project which is to be completed in a phased approach was originally though to be complete by mid summer of this year.