Assaults on prison officers has become ‘accepted norm’

Prison officers believe the rule of law has “disappeared” from prisons and assaults on officers have become an accepted norm, according to the president of their representative body.

Speaking last night as officers gathered in Kilkenny for their annual conference, Prison Officers’ Association president Stephen Delaney criticised the Government for not allowing dogs or batons and the removal of remission to be used as a way of enforcing rules in prison.

He called for an independent analysis of the assaults being committed by inmates against staff, which will lead to prisons being a safer place to work.

Mr Delaney said that when he joined the Prison Service over 30 years ago, the assault of a prison officer was “a rarity” and something that reverberated around every prison in Ireland.

“The current amount and seriousness of assaults on our members is simply not acceptable or sustainable. 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,” he said.

Since members held their 2017 conference last May, a “wide range of assaults” have been experienced by staff, he said.

“In June three officers attacked while on escort; in July (Cloverhill), two staff were injured, which involved one recruit ingesting blood in a vicious attack; in August, an officer in Cork was attacked and hospitalised with a head injury; in September, also in Cork, a prison officer’s car was petrol bombed in front of their home; in October (Mountjoy), two officers were attacked and one bitten in a serious assault; in November (Midlands), an officer was attacked and sustained a head injury: in December (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.”

Also during December, urine was thrown over staff and an officer was attacked with an iron bar, according to Mr Delaney, while in January a Mountjoy prisoner spat in an officer’s face.

“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’.

“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.”

Mr Delaney called on Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, who is addressing the conference today, to announce an independent analysis of assaults on members.

“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 said, adding it is not acceptable to describe assaults as “a risk of the job”.

“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.

“One of the practical methods of punishment, which forms part of the prison rules, was the withdrawal of remission.”

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