Assaults on prison officers increase by 50%

Assaults on prison officers increased by 50% last year — and almost one-third of them occurred in a young offenders institution.

According to the Prison Officers Association, one of the latest attacks occurred this week in Mountjoy, when an inmate tried to bite a male prison officer on the arm and punched his female colleague in the face.

Figures released by the Department of Justice show there were 154 assaults, or one almost every two days, by prisoners on staff in 2013. That compared with 107 in 2012.

The highest number of attacks on prison officers took place in St Patrick’s Institution where 49 incidents occurred. There was also a high number (34) in Mountjoy’s male prison.

The department also confirmed there were 604 assaults on prisoners by their fellow inmates during 2013.

Mountjoy (107) and Castlerea (103) had the largest number of attacks, followed by Midlands (88) and Cloverhill (76).

Cork prison had 30 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and eight assaults on staff.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said no level of inter-prisoner violence or assaults on staff was acceptable. “However, no regime can completely eliminate the possibility of violent incidents happening in a prison setting where a large number of dangerous and violent offenders are held.”

She said the 758 incidents of violence recorded in prisons during 2013 included “very minor incidents”.

“This amounts to an average of 2.1 incidents per day among a population of approximately 4,000,” she said. “The Irish Prison Service has successfully introduced a number of measures across the prison estate such as hand-held metal detectors, netting over prison yards, boss chairs and security screening machines to detect and prevent weapons from entering the prison to limit the scope of acts of violence.”

She also said new prisoner programmes had been introduced, such as the incentivised regimes policy which provided for a differentiation of privileges between prisoners according to their level of engagement with services and behaviour.

“The objective is to provide tangible incentives to prisoners to participate in structured activities and to reinforce good behaviour, leading to a safer and more secure environment,” she said. “As a result, the figures for 2013 represent an 8% decrease on the 2012 total of 822 (715 prisoner-on-prisoner and 107 prisoner-on-staff).”

The Prison Officers Association said the figures released by the department showed institutions where policies such as the incentivised regime were in place, such as Shelton Abbey and Arbour Hill, had few if any attacks. However, POA deputy general secretary Jim Mitchell pointed to a failure to see through initiatives for prisoners for whom there was no capacity for engaging in incentivised regimes.

He said prisoners can be placed on a “violently disruptive prisoner policy”. That policy, he said, had seen massive engagement from authorities initially, but that engagement had tailed off and elements of it were not being seen through.

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