Prison officers escorting high-risk prisoners are to be issued with anti-stab vests, batons and incapacitant spray, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has said.
Two warders were seriously injured in Mountjoy Prison last month and two others were wounded in February when Scottish armed robber Derek Brockwell escaped from Tallaght hospital in Dublin.
A report into that incident recommended anti-stab vests, batons and incapacitant spray be issued to all officers on high-risk escorts and that ballistics vests also be introduced.
The Irish Prison Service is buying approximately 160 vests across all prisons, with the vast majority recently deployed.
Minister Fitzgerald told prison officers: “Let me assure you too that I take the safety and welfare of all prison staff very seriously and we are committed to ensuring that every action is taken to safeguard staff at all times.”
Last year there were 151 recorded assaults by prisoners on staff.
This year, Brockwell – a Glaswegian aged 53 – fled custody in the Republic after stabbing warders during a hospital visit and was captured by police in Belfast.
He was detained with the help of a Taser by armed police officers on February 18, days after he escaped from custody.
Minister Fitzgerald addressed a meeting of the Prison Officers’ Association annual conference in Clare.
She accepted the recommendations of an expert advisory group established following the Brockwell escape.
* The conduct of hospital escorts to be reviewed;
* Prisoner profile procedures to be looked at again to identify escorts that may not require armed escort but are deemed “high risk”;
* Anti-stab vests to be worn by all staff on escorts identified as “high risk” and ballistic vests to be introduced for use on armed/high-risk escorts;
* Staves and incapacitant spray will be issued to all warders on “high-risk” escorts.
However, the Association's Deputy General Secretary, Jim Mitchell, said the Minister's announcement does not go far enough.
"She's giving 160 [vests] for escorts. We have 3,000 members across 14 institutions - that works out at about 11 per institution. The number of people going out, the level of highly volatile prisoners - it's not enough.
"We obviously welcome the development, but we don’t think it goes far enough."