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PRISON officers will be screened by their own sniffer dogs to detect if they are smuggling drugs to convicts in the country's jails, the Irish Independent has learned.

Previously, prison staff were not subjected to inspection from the sniffer dogs for concealed cannabis, cocaine or heroin.

However, the Irish Prison Service has confirmed it is in the final stages of launching its own specially trained dog detection unit as part of the new crackdown at the country's 14 prisons.

The new safety measure will be employed at the country's oldest jail, Limerick Prison, before the end of next week.

"From the end of this month, our own drug dog handling team will be in place in Limerick prison and staff will be screened," a spokesman for the Irish Prison Service told the Irish Independent.

The measures is one of a series of new security measures being adopted by senior prison management and comes as part of the national roll-out of the drugs dog unit.

As part of a pilot scheme initiated in 2007, the Irish Prison Service employed dog handlers and sniffer dogs to detect if visitors to some of the country's prisons were attempting to smuggle narcotics into inmates.

The scheme has proved to be a huge success and has made it much more difficult to smuggle drugs into prisons.

In 2007, just under 1,900 prisoners received methadone treatment following drug use.

If the dog detects an illegal substance on a visitor, it will sit down beside the visitor and start wagging its tail while looking up at the culprit.

While family or friends visiting inmates in the country's jails have been subject to inspection, prison officers presenting for work were not.

That will now change under the tough new security measures.

Scanners

Sniffer dogs are used to find contraband and airport-style X-ray scanners and metal detectors have also been installed at some of the country's largest prisons. Staff have to go through the X-ray scanners and metal detectors can be used on them.

In Limerick Prison, the sniffer dogs patrol the visiting area during visiting times. The prison service's new full-time drugs dog unit will allow management to screen all who enter the country's jails in future years.

Separately, prison authorities are installing phone blocking technology in Irish prisons to stop the country's leading criminals from directing their illegal enterprises from behind bars.

However, quick-thinking criminals are using bluetooth headsets in a bid to get around the sophisticated technology. Mobile phones are left outside prison windows and once paired with a bluetooth device in near proximity can be used by inmates to talk to colleagues and family on the outside.

- Barry Duggan

www.independent.ie

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