Nearly 1,000 prison assaults last year
ALMOST 1,000 assaults were carried out by prisoners in the past year.
Fellow inmates were victims in 800 of the attacks in the nation's 14 jails, while a further 150 assaults targeted prison officers.
The figures were disclosed yesterday by the director-general of the Irish Prison Service, Brian Purcell, who said the statistics must be viewed in the context of accommodating more than 4,000 inmates daily.
He also pointed out that the jails coped with 1.4 million "bed nights" annually -- a reference to the numbers in custody throughout the year.
Mr Purcell was commenting on remarks by the president of the Prison Officers' Association, Jim Mitchell, at its annual conference in Killarney.
Mr Mitchell highlighted the growth of gang culture in the jails and increasing problems with violence, drugs and overcrowding.
The director-general said: "The reality is that prison reflects what's happening in society at large.
"The increase in the number of criminal gang members in custody indicates the success of the gardai in bringing them to justice and the courts then imposing a custodial sentence," he said.
"The more successful the gardai are in relation to prosecutions against organised criminals, then obviously the number of prisoners that we get with that background will be on the rise. And it is a challenge on an ongoing basis for the prison service. But we feel that we're dealing with it quite well," Mr Mitchell added.
"We have the maximum security prison in Portlaoise where a considerable number of the more serious organised criminals are kept."
He accepted that the prisons were operating at or above full capacity at the moment. But he said a suggestion at the conference to create a special unit for gangland figures was not a simple solution to the problem.