This from yesterday's Sunday Times (Ireland):
Cameras probe every nook in search for drugs in prison
Richard Oakley and Andrew Bushe
THE long arm of the law has just got longer — and bendier. Irish prisons are to be supplied with camera probes that can twist their way into hiding places favoured by prisoners stashing illegal contraband.
The technology has proved successful in detecting not only drugs but also mobile phones, which are sometimes used by inmates to run criminal operations from their cells.
NI_MPU('middle');Michael McDowell, the justice minister, has given permission for officials to purchase a supply of the miniature digital cameras attached to flexible wire. They are used to search a prison’s nooks and crannies, such as the hollow legs of chairs and beds, U-bends in toilets, drain holes, and under floorboards.
“We have tried out the cameras in two prisons and the results have been encouraging,” said a spokesman for the Prison Service. “We are going to put out a tender for a supply. The intention would be to make the devices available to every prison. They are simple to operate and no special expertise is required.”
McDowell sees the cameras as central to plans to crack down on prisoners engaging in smuggling and drug usage. Nets have been installed over prison exercise yards to prevent objects being thrown over walls. Screening of visitors is being increased, as are cell searches.
All parcels and correspondence addressed to inmates will soon be searched for drugs, while visits by family and friends will be more strictly controlled. Sniffer dogs will also be introduced in a bid to prevent drugs getting into prisons.
Facilities for screened visits — during which prisoners are kept behind glass — are being installed and physical contact between prisoners and visitors is being reduced. CCTV usage is being extended and random and voluntary drug testing is planned for next year. Prisoners who volunteer for checks are given enhanced meals as a reward. Up to 10% of inmates will be tested for drug use each year.
New jails to be built in Dublin and Cork will have exercise yards further away from the outer walls, making it impossible for items to be thrown in.
The get-tough approach has been criticised by some prison-reform advocates. It emerged in a recent report by Justice Dermot Kinlen, the inspector of prisons, that five prison officers were suspected of smuggling drugs to inmates.
McDowell also indicated last week that gardai are planning to double the number of dogs in their canine unit. Established in 1960, the garda dog unit currently has 26 canines, but McDowell said this would be increased to approximately 50. Two dogs are currently being trained for tactical support and a third is being taught to detect blood. The unit has two sergeants and 14 gardai, but is to be expanded to 29 specialised handlers. Dogs need 14 weeks’ training for operational duty. Specialised dogs that are used to sniff out drugs and explosives need an additional six to eight weeks’ training before going on the beat.