Rise in assaults on prison officers

Assaults on prison officers by inmates have increased over the last three years – but representatives claim the figures still do not capture the full scale of violence.

The recorded incidents of direct assaults on officers, compiled by the Irish Prison Service (IPS), show there were 104 in 2017, up from 98 in 2016 and 91 in 2015.

The 2017 figure is the second highest over the last six years, in which assaults rose from 71 in 2012 to 98 in 2013, and peaking at 131 in 2014.

The figures have been corrected to exclude assaults in St Patrick’s Institution for young offenders, which recorded no incidents from 2015 onwards, reflecting the gradual removal of all 16- and 17-year-olds to Wheatfield Prison and Oberstown Children Detention Campus.

“When you take out St Pat’s, there really has been no change in assaults and our belief is that there has been little or no change and that they still are at the same high level,” said Jim Mitchell, deputy general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association.

He said the association had ongoing concerns about the accuracy of assault statistics recorded by the IPS.

“We have raised this issue at our annual conference,” he said. “In 2015, the figure was 91, showing a massive decrease in assaults, yet within the prison service staff were being regularly stabbed over the period and that wasn’t reflected in the figures. The thing about the statistics is that you need to get behind them.”

At the last conference, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan referred to assaults and accurate recording.

“Mr Flanagan said he was going to give a greater depth of analysis to it, which we called for,” said Mr Mitchell.

In his speech at the conference, Mr Flanagan said there were “other occasions” in addition to the recorded figures where staff were “injured in the line of duty”.

He said: “I believe there is additional data to support that and the Prison Service recognise that.”

He said there were 117 instances where an officer was injured on duty in 2017 and was absent from work. He said the IPS was “currently developing a use of force recording system”.

The IPS said additional data would include injuries sustained while intervening in fights between prisoners, and said they had no further data yet on this area.

A 2016 review of assaults on prison officers, conducted by the State Claims Agency, found there was “genuine concern” among staff for their safety.

It said that while there was “some evidence” that the number of assaults was increasing, it said the evidence was not “compelling”.

It added: “However, direct physical assaults on operational prison staff are an important and significant issue; almost three in every 100 operational prison staff were directly physically assaulted in 2015.”

It said that while there were 93 recorded direct assaults in 2015, there were a further 45 physical interventions involving an officer being struck inadvertently or unintentionally.

The report said it was “critical” that a “full data set” be gathered over the coming years about all assault incidents.

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