Juveniles smuggle eggs packed with heroin past guards
Henry McDonald, Ireland editor
The Observer, Sunday 12 September 2004 01.32 BST
Ireland's largest young offenders' centre is awash with drugs, plagued by gang culture and breaking numerous UN and EU conventions over the jailing of juveniles alongside adults, according to relatives of prison officers who work at St Patrick's Institution in Dublin.
They claim that chronic understaffing and low morale have led to:
• A drug culture supported by ingenious methods of delivery, including eggs containing heroin and hashish.
• No patrols of exterior walls while drug dealers' runners on the outside openly hurl the narcotics into the exercise yard.
• Workshops being closed.
• Juveniles held alongside adults in breach of EU and UN treaties on children's rights.
• Rival gangs clashing on the wings and in the exercise yard.
The Observer met the main spokeswoman for the officers' relatives, the wife of a prison officer with nearly 25 years of service in youth detention.
She said the officers were too frightened to speak themselves as they feared they could lose their jobs, face fines or even imprisonment under the Department of Justice's news rules barring state servants such as Garda officers from speaking to the media.
On security, she said that drug runners are openly throwing drugs over the exterior wall beside the Royal Canal: 'There are no officers with dogs patrolling around the walls. The drug dealers' runners aren't even worried about the CCTV cameras looking down on the raised ground where they throw the drugs over. They wear baseball caps and scarves over their faces when they do it, some of them don't even bother covering their faces up, they are so brazen.'
The officers have noticed a new method to deliver drugs to the young offenders on the other side of the wall - eggs.
'The dealers cut an egg at the top, place heroin or hash in tin foil or plastic and drop it into the egg. Then they seal it up and tie it with twine to a stone. They are then thrown on to the net. The egg cracks and the wrap falls out with the yolk. It either falls onto the ground or the young offenders distract prison officers and others form a pyramid until one of them can get to the net and take the drugs off it.'
The relatives of the prison officers said that during exercise time there are only five staff to watch 70 to 80 young inmates. The prisoners use mobile phones smuggled into St Patrick's to text their dealers on the outside.
The new €25,000 net was installed to replace nets that were unable to stop tennis and golf balls containing drug wraps falling onto the yard.
Founded in 1858 and situated beside Mountjoy Jail, St Patrick's currently holds 170 inmates aged 16 to 21 who are serving a range of sentences up to life.
Through their relatives, the officers also claimed that a €12 million school built beside the north Dublin complex, which the inmates were to attend, has been closed for 18 months because of staff shortages.
'The school has a big gym and gym hall, changing rooms and state-of-the-art facilities and it is all lying empty. There is even a gym teacher who has been on the payroll for a year and a half without teaching any of the inmates.
'The metal and woodwork workshops have been closed because there are not enough officers to secure the units. There is some education but not much; most of the young offenders' spare time is taken up with passive activities such as watching videos in the library or TV in their cells,' the officers' spokeswoman said.
Their claim that housing juvenile offenders (those aged 16 to 18) alongside 19 to 21-year-olds breaches EU and UN conventions on children's rights was backed up yesterday by one of Ireland's leading human rights experts.
Ivana Bacik, a law lecturer at Trinity College, Dublin, said that holding juveniles and adults together breached Article 37 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Children's Rights.
An Irish Prison Service spokesman confirmed that juveniles were incarcerated at St Patrick's with adults but that under the 1999 Children Act there were plans to separate the two age groups. He also said that there were at least two incidents where drugs came over the exterior wall inside eggs and that a workshop was closed due to financial reasons.
He denied the officers' claims that drugs were widely available and that mobile phones had been smuggled into St Patrick's. He also denied lack of staff has resulted in security breaches at St Patrick's.
'Over 400 prisoners have used our drug-free wing of St Patrick's, which has been highly successful. Indeed there have been comments from drug users sent to St Patrick's describing their time there as like undergoing cold turkey. There are also random searches of prisoners following visits,' he said.
He said the prison service did not patrol the exterior walls, as this was the remit of the Garda Siochana.