Protective equipment for prison officers

Prison officers are to be given anti-stab vests, incapacitant sprays and extendable batons in response to the serious stabbing of a prison officer in a high-profile escape last February.

Protective equipment for prison officers

While the details of the plan have yet to the finalised, prison authorities have agreed to provide at least some prison staff with protective equipment.

The Prison Officers’ Association renewed their demands for such equipment, including stab-proof vests, sprays and batons, after the Derek Brockwell incident.

The Scottish criminal knifed two prison officers — slashing one across the stomach — during an escape from Tallaght Hospital, Dublin, on February 18 last.

An investigation is underway as to how he got access to a knife after he went to toilets in the hospital. He subsequently escaped, assisted by others, and fled to the North, before being captured by PSNI officers using a Taser stun gun.

It emerged that his security status had been officially downgraded by prison authorities after four previous requests by them for garda escorts had been turned down.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said she had met with both the POA and the head of the Irish Prison Service, Michael Donnellan.

“I have been assured by the director general of the Irish Prison Service that every action is taken by the service to ensure, as far as possible, the safety of all prison staff,” she said. “That is clearly and absolutely a critical consideration.

She said that after the incident in Tallaght Hospital, the IPS had established a focus group on hospital escorts and procedures, which is being chaired by the director of operations.

She said this group was reviewing the conduct of hospital escorts and would make recommendations to Mr Donnellan to ensure “absolute safety”.

The minister said that, while the incident was rare, it was very serious and measures must be put in place.

She said the IPS control and restraint advisory group had also met to consider several issues, including personal protective equipment, defensive equipment, training and communications.

She said proposals had been identified regarding escorts, and the director general had accepted these, which range from short-term and long-term recommendations.

Ms Fitzgerald said the POA sits on this body and added: “At a meeting which I chaired between the representatives of the prison officers and the governor, it was agreed that any protective equipment that was needed would be issued.”

She said that a group had been set up by Mr Donnellan to implement actions, “including the purchase of personal protection equipment, provision of training and the identification of high-risk escorts”

Ms Fitzgerald said “several trials in the use and application” of the new equipment were to be undertaken.

Prison sources have said the full details of the plan “have to be thrashed out”.

This is thought to include whether all prison officers should receive the equipment, just those involved in escorts, or only staff carrying out high-risk escorts.

“There will be a lot of discussion yet and piloting,” said one source.

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