For years, people have wondered what exactly goes on behind the walls of a prison and since I can’t take you in there myself, I met with the well-known former Governor of Portlaoise Prison Mr. Derek Brennan.
There are 14 institutions in the Irish Prison System consisting of 11 traditional “closed” institutions, two open centres, which operate with minimal internal and perimeter security, and one “semi-open” facility with traditional perimeter security but minimal internal security. The Irish Prison Service deals with male offenders who are 16 years of age and over and female offenders who are 17 years and over.
Portlaoise Prison is a closed high security prison for 279 adult males. It is the committal prison for those sent to custody from the Special Criminal Court and prisoners accommodated here include those linked with subversive crime.
While sitting down in Castleknock Hotel chatting over a cup of coffee, I found it hard to imagine Mr. Brennan was feared by many in-mates in Portlaoise Prison. As Derek was chatting away he added “I don’t hold grudges against any ex-cons, I am a well-known figure to the public and occasionally I meet people who have severed time, I could run into them anywhere, for example, the barbers and I always say hello as I believe in second chances.”
So what exactly do these men get up to when there thrown inside? Derek is only too delighted to fill us all in.
There have been many stories over the years that prisoners get mistreated, crime still continues even when locked up, prison officers get assaulted on a daily basis, but is there any truth behind these stories?
When I asked Derek has he ever heard of any prisoners that have been mistreated in any prisons in Ireland, he answered truthfully (I hope) by saying “Yes, we have a very robust method of examination in Irish prisons, and from time to time claims emerge in regards to a mistreatment, to counter that prisoners are allowed see a governor every day to make any complaint, they have unlimited access to a solicitor, they can write to the Court of Human Rights, take cases of civil actions against prison staff and they can also make complaints to the guards. There have been occasions where staff have been brought to court and later dismissed”.
I still have my doubts though, if a complaint is made how do we know that is it noted and followed up on? Prison guards are friendly with their colleagues so would they take a prisoners side over your work buddies?
Maybe I watch too many films on TV but you often hear of prison guards helping the prisoners in trafficking items in to the prison, even to the extent of trafficking drugs in.
In my opinion I have always thought that maybe the prisoners saw a soft or weak side to a prison guard and over a long period of time they had them doing favours for them. Derek put my movie mind to rest, “Yes absolutely, prisoners can be very predatory, in other words, prisoners will find a weakness in everybody and see how can they work this person to their advantage, small things like “oh he’s in charge of the yard today we can get away with this or he’s in charge of the work shop we can play cards.” It can then develop in too much bigger favours, such as drugs and the officers find themselves isolated and have felt they had nobody to turn to for help and it’s a very sad thing, some have even served prison terms for this.”
And finally when I asked Derek has he ever encountered an aggressive prisoner that he had to restrain, he had this to say, “Yes, I wasn’t born this ugly (laughs) I’ve lost a few battles. There have been occasions through no fault of their own, prisoners have become violent due to mental health issues, or the occasional prisoner who can get aggressive for no reason, but usually they are well behaved.”
For those of you who have always wondered what conditions some prisoners are living in or have lived in, I have included some images below of different prisons around the world