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Connolly, Johnny (2012) Drugs in prisons. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 43, Autumn 2012, pp. 31-32.

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The Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, published a report on Limerick Prison in November 2011.1 The report notes that ‘most prisoners have addiction problems’ (p.27). In relation to the availability of drugs in the prison, the report states:
… all yards are covered by nets, a dedicated search procedure (with appropriate protocols) operates for all persons entering the prison, a dedicated drug dog is on duty, mandatory drug testing of prisoners is the norm and random targeted searches are carried out. The Operational Support Group (OSG) is the dedicated unit responsible for such initiatives. These measures have had the combined effect of reducing the amount of drugs and contraband entering the prison. (p.26) 

The Inspector’s report is, however, also highly critical about overcrowding and the presence of ‘gangs’ in the prison. It also reiterates the need for the establishment of a drug-free unit in the prison, stating that ‘there are a number of prisoners, not only in Limerick prison but in all prisons in the Irish prison system, who wish to either remain drug free or try to become drug free’ and that Limerick, ‘in common with all closed prisons, should have a drug free support unit’ (p.38). In a follow-up report, published in March 2012, the Inspector comments further in relation to a drug-free unit: ‘Because of the present overcrowding in Limerick Prison it has not been possible to identify a section of the prison that could be dedicated as a drug free support unit’2 (p.8).
Prison visiting committees are appointed to each prison under the Prisons (Visiting Committees) Act 1925 and the Prison (Visiting Committees) Order 1925. These committees report to the Minister for Justice and Equality on an annual basis. In relation to drug issues, the Wheatfield Prison visiting committee in its 2011 annual report3 stated: ‘One of the most difficult problems for prisoners was in relation to family visits. Since the introduction of dogs to curb the introduction of drugs into the prison many visitors have failed to pass the dog test and therefore are only allowed screen visits. Many prisoners are unhappy with screen visits but we have to advise them that it is in the best interest of all prisoners that drugs are kept out of the prison.’ (p.4).
The Mountjoy Prison visiting committee in its annual report for 20114 also refers to the drug problems in the prison, including the issue of people becoming addicted in the prison. The report states:
We are particularly concerned at the increased level of tablet availability, and the difficulty in
detecting these. Also the problem of interaction between drug users and non-drug users must be addressed in 2012. 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 Visiting Committee is of the view that increased measures must be put in place to eliminate the passing of tablets etc. which cannot be detected by dogs. The introduction of nets over the yards has strengthened the controls on drug supplies, but desperation leads to some amazing inventions, as has been witnessed in Mountjoy over the years. So there is no room for complacency or relaxation in pursuing new ways of dealing with the issue of supply. A programme of dealing with addiction should be set up, so as to allow for far greater availability of treatment for drug users encouraged or wishing to come off drugs. It is astounding that prisoners locked up for 23 hours per day can still avail of a constant supply of drugs/tablets.’ (p.18)
With regard to the provision of treatment in the prison, the committee calls for a review of the drug treatment programme in the medical unit:
The Medical Unit provides a primary pro-active care service, with a focus on preventive medicine. The facility provides for integrated programme for prisoners committed to becoming drug-free with a view to preparing for eventual release from prison. Prisoners wanting to participate in this programme are subject to specific qualifying considerations. We believe the programme should be widened to include all prisoners wishing to participate, who qualify. This whole area needs revision, as maybe it is time to look at the possibility of including all prisoners affected by drug addiction, in drug programmes. (p.17)
The Cloverhill Prison visiting committee 2011 report5 also refers to the need to establish a drug-free unit in the prison:
In our 2008 report we first suggested and strongly recommended exploring
the possibility of establishing a Drug Free unit within this prison and again we
strongly suggest exploring the possibly of doing a feasibility study. We are
disappointed to note that there has been no developments in this area but accept that
this may be difficult on a Practical level in a predominately remand setting. (p.22)
The 2011 annual report of the Prison Service6 states that supply control measures, including a security screening unit for visitors and staff members and a canine unit, ‘have been particularly effective and local intelligence indicates that the availability of contraband has significantly decreased across the prison system’ (p.31). The report also states that a drug-free programme, to support prisoners who are drug free and/or stable on methadone, will be in place in all closed prisons (except Arbour Hill) ‘in dedicated drug free areas’ by the end of 2012 (p.30).
1.     Inspector of Prisons (2011) Report on an inspection of Limerick Prison by the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, 25 November 2011. Tipperary: Office of the Inspector of Prisons.
2.     Inspector of Prisons (2012) Report of second follow up inspection of Limerick Prison by the Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly, 1 March 2012. Tipperary: Office of the Inspector of Prisons.
3.     Wheatfield Prison Visiting Committee (2012) Wheatfield Prison Visiting Committee annual report 2011. Dublin: Department of Justice and Equality.
4.     Mountjoy Prison Visiting Committee (2012) Mountjoy Prison annual report 2011. Dublin: Department of Justice and Equality.
5.     Cloverhill Prison Visiting Committee (2012) Cloverhill Prison Visiting Committee annual report 2011. Dublin: Department of Justice and Equality.
6.     Irish Prison Service (2012) Irish Prison Service annual report 2011. Longford: Irish Prison Service.
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Crime prevention
Issue Title
Issue 43, Autumn 2012
Page Range
pp. 31-32
Health Research Board
Issue 43, Autumn 2012
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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