Prison officers call for greater protection as assaults increase

The POA is calling for better protective equipment and mandatory sentences for assaults on prison staff

Prison officers call for greater protection as assaults increase

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The Prison Officers Association has said that its members are facing increased danger as a result of staff reductions throughout the service.

The POA claimed there have been an increased number of assaults on its members by inmates - alongside numerous examples of alleged assaults not leading to convictions.

According to a major review of assaults on prison staff published by the State Claims Agency last year, 93 people - 3% of operational prison staff - were directly assaulted by prisoners in 2015. 

Figures provided by the Irish Prison Service show that a total of 98 assaults were recorded on prison officers by inmates during 2016 - up seven on the previous year.

The review recommended a number of new policies including new deterrent and protective equipment, improved technology to support assessment of prisoner risk and the removal of prisoners with serious mental health difficulties from general population.

Protective equipment

Speaking ahead of the POA annual conference in Galway this morning, the association’s president Stephen Delaney said prison officers need more batons, pepper spray and body armour to combat the threat of violent assaults by inmates.

Mr Delaney said staff shortages are set to increase this year as retirements will exceed recruitment:

“Unfortunately prisoners in custody can be very inventive and make all kinds of weapons and the reality is we need a deterrent for our staff,” he said.

“Two years ago we had called for a consecutive sentence where a conviction of assault has been established by the authorities and we fully support our sister organisation the GRA (Garda Representative Association) in calling for a mandatory sentence when assaults have been perpetrated on staff.”

Increase in assaults

The call follows a reported five-fold increase in attacks on staff by inmates at the women's jail Dóchas.

According to the Irish Examiner the number of assaults went up from 5 in 2015 to 26 in 2016.

The paper reports that a special Violent and Disruptive Prisoner Unit will be set up by September or October this year.

Four of the country’s most-dangerous prisoners are earmarked to be housed in the secure unit, which will be based in Midlands Prison.

The unit will have capacity for more inmates and will run jointly by psychologists and prison staff.

An Irish Prison Service document said it will be the “first secure, therapeutically focused unit dealing with violently disruptive prisoners.”

You can listen back to Mr Delaney's full appearance on Newstalk Breakfast here: