Prison officers escorting violent inmates 'to get bullet-proof and anti-stab vests'
Prison officers escorting violent inmates are to get bullet-proof and anti-stab vests in the wake of the stabbing of two officers while transporting violent robber Derek Brockwell in February.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald told today's Prison Officers Association (POA) annual conference that other recommendations made following the savage attack will also be implemented, including the introduction of batons and pepper sprays, and the transportation of high risk prisoners in prison uniforms.
Brockwell stabbed the two officers in Tallaght Hospital on February 17 after retrieving a knife left for him in the toilets.
He then escaped on the back of a waiting motorcyle.
The Minister made her comments as POA president Stephen Delaney outlined that there had been six stabbings of prison officers in six weeks.
"Physical violence against prison officers continues unabated. The physical safety of our members must always be our top priority," he said.
"Hopefully none of us will be confronted with the murder of a prison officer while on duty, and if senior Irish Prison Service officials don't face the stark reality of staff safety, this could easily be visited upon us," he added, addressing Minister Fitzgerald directly.
The Minister said she takes the safety and welfare of all prison staff very seriously.
"Every violent assault is viewed and treated as a serious incident," she said, adding that in 2014 there were 151 recorded assaults by prisoners on staff.
"The Irish Prison Service has identified a requirement for approximately 160 vests across all prisons and the vast majority of these have been recently deployed," the minister added.
"In addition, appropriate training and equipment is to be provided on de-escalation measures. You can be assured that all these recommendations will be implemented in full," she said.
But Stephen Delaney said the measures being introduced on anti-stab vests did not go far enough.
"160 vests for 3,500 staff, 11 per institution. One size does not fit all minister. It is not enough," he said.
Mr Delaney also outlined a situation that occurred in Portlaoise Prison in the last few days where an inmate who has 150 instances of attacks on staff recorded against him was allowed a birthday cake and minerals while on punishment.
"In my time this is the most damning indictment of the Irish Prison Service mindset. Marie Antoinette had the peasants eating cake but she lost her head. We are not waiting until one of ours loses theirs," he said to massive applause.
The conference, being held in Co Clare, was also told that a promise to eradicate drugs from prisons through enhanced screening programmes, drug-free areas, and confidential help lines had fallen flat.
"A confidential helpline will only allow the gangs to subvert proper procedures by setting up some unwitting fool coming in as a decoy while some other method is employed to get drugs into prisons," said Mr Delaney.
"It is the gang leaders that should be properly isolated for the safety of all officers and prisoners alike. We are told that any attempts to isolate these individuals will be resisted in the courts," he added.
"We are saying loud and clear to you if you take these individuals on and make real attempts to safeguard our members you will have our absolute support," Mr Delaney said addressing Minister Fitzgerald.
"We all know the problems, the real challenge is doing something about it," he added.