Tuesday 22 January 2019

'Officers now believe that the rule of law in prisons has disappeared ' - Horrific attacks on staff revealed

Mountjoy Prison in Dublin
Mountjoy Prison in Dublin
Conor Feehan

Conor Feehan

Violent attacks on prison officers by inmates are a problem that need to be met with practical solutions and cannot be “hugged away”, according to the president of the Prison Officers’ Association.

Speaking on the eve of it's annual delegate conference in Kilkenny, Stephen Delaney said attacks had now become the norm whereas they were rare when he took his role in the prison service over 30 years ago.

“No other employer would tolerate this. The current amount and seriousness of assaults on our members is simply not acceptable or sustainable,” he said.

“Many of our officers now believe that the rule of law in prisons has disappeared and that the era of appeasement for the offender is now fully embedded,” Mr Delaney added.

Outlining attacks in the last year alone he said that in Mountjoy a female officer was grabbed from behind by the hair and smacked off a wall, and in the Midlands prison a female officer was sexually assaulted.

Urine was thrown over staff in another attack, and an officer was attacked with an iron bar; while in a separate incident in Mountjoy a prisoner spat into an officer’s face.

He said three officers were attacked while on escort, and in Cloverhill two staff were injured, which involved one recruit ingesting blood in a vicious attack.

An officer in Cork was attacked and hospitalised with a head injury, while another prison officer’s car was petrol bombed in front of their home.

In Mountjoy two officers were attacked and one bitten in a serious assault; and in the Midlands an officer was attacked and sustained a head injury.

“Year on year since I took up this role - and indeed well before my time - the President of our Union has quoted from statistical analysis of one type or another. When these statistics, especially on assaults, dip from the ‘outrageous’ to the simply ‘unbelievable’ the Minister of the day will normally tell us  ‘what great progress is being made’ and that it ‘represents a significant reduction of instances of violence upon the dedicated working prison officers of the service’,” said Mr Delaney.

“And so it goes on for another year and sometimes another Minister, while individual prison officers and their families are trying to cope with all that has occurred,” he added.

Mr Delaney called on the Justice Minister to announce an independent analysis of assaults on prison officers while at work.

“This analysis should lead to recommendations on how our members can experience a safe place of work. Surely this is not too much to ask in 2018,” he explained.

“In recent years practical solutions that form part and parcel of prison work in other jurisdictions, such as conflict resolution, dogs and batons being part of the uniform - were unilaterally rejected by our employer ( the Irish Prison Service),” Mr Delaney said.

“One of the practical methods of punishment, which forms part of the prison rules, was the withdrawal of remission. This was unilaterally removed by the employer in the latest round of prisoner concessions to satisfy the whim of whoever the latest ‘forward thinking’ group that never had to walk a prison landing but thought long and impressive thoughts about how to ‘hug’ away the problems of this world,” he added.

“We must all get real on this issue of assaults on our members; the hugging philosophy is as outdated as it is ridiculous,” he concluded.

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