€2.5m paid out to injured prison officers following wave of attacks
Published 02/08/2010 | 05:00
MORE than €2.5m was paid out to injured prison officers last year, as the country's overcrowded jails struggle to stem the rising tide of violent attacks behind bars.
Staff members have been stabbed, had their jaws smashed, been jabbed with needles and attacked with deadly handmade weapons.
One warder was given compensation of more than €500,000, due to the severity of his injuries, according to figures obtained from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal, under a Freedom of Information request.
Another prison officer was granted €329,473 while a number of others received more than €50,000. The smallest pay-out was €258.
Compensation was paid to 112 prison officers, who were injured or maimed at work.
A further 61 new claims by prison officers were also lodged. The figures reflect growing tensions in our prisons that are now at bursting point.
Tensions are particularly high in the Victorian-era Mountjoy Prison, which currently houses more than 700 inmates. Officers clad in riot gear were placed on standby recently, as prisoners protested a crackdown on the smuggling of drugs and mobile phones into the jail.
It is feared the clampdown by new governor Ned Whelan will spark more unrest in the country's largest jail.
Prison Officers' Association (POA) assistant general secretary, Jim Mitchell, warned that staff are now dealing with an increasingly volatile mix of gangs and a new generation of more violent inmates.
"They resort to violence quicker than the old type, than your 'ordinary decent criminal', that they used to be called," he told the Irish Independent.
"As it is, every prison in the State is bursting at the seams. It is a bad situation."
Figures disclosed by the director-general of the Irish Prison Service this year showed there were close to 1,000 assaults in the 14 jails, last year.
Inmates attacked their fellow prisoners in 800 instances, while a further 150 prison officers were assaulted.
The prison service pointed out that prisoner numbers have increased significantly in recent years -- with an 11pc rise over the past 12-months alone.
The bulk of the prison population is now made up of more serious offenders, with 80pc of inmates now serving 12-month sentences or longer.
In its recent revised capital-spending programme, the Government confirmed the planned new 'super-prison', at Dublin's Thornton Hall, to cater for more than 2,000 will now be built in stages, with spaces for 700 prisoners by 2014.
A new block in Wheatfield prison will open up a further 200 prison spaces by the end of the year.