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More assaults on prison officers year-on-year

04 Jul 2019 / PRISONS Print

More assaults on prison officers year-on-year

More prison officers are injured in the course of their work than was previously thought.

The Irish Prison Service has published new figures that show that there were 137 incidents of ‘restraint interventions’ last year, compared with 91 in 2017. These numbers refer to situations where a prisoner is not complying – including where a prisoner is assaulting another inmate – and officers are injured trying to restrain them.

However, the figures do not include direct assaults by inmates on prison officers. There were 110 such assaults in 2018, and 104 in 2017. In 2015, there were 91 such assaults.

Serious concerns

Jim Mitchell, deputy general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA), said that the association has repeatedly raised serious concerns that the full scale of injuries caused by prisoners was not being captured by prison service statistics.

‘Restraint interventions’ cover situations where a prisoner is not complying, including where a prisoner is assaulting another inmate and officers are injured trying to restrain them.

Mitchell, quoted in the Irish Examiner, said: “The vast majority of those interventions would have been prisoner-on-prisoner violence, so, to intervene in each of those, prison officers are putting themselves in harm’s way.

“There were 137 interventions in 2018. That’s a serious amount of interventions by a significant amount of staff – two or three prison officers or four, if a formalised intervention. These interventions are to prevent a prisoner being seriously injured, or worse, by another prisoner.”

New Violence Reduction Unit

A significant development was the opening of a Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) in the Midlands Prison in November 2018. According to the prison service, this is designed to be primarily a rehabilitative unit, “where violent prisoners will benefit from a purposeful regime and are supported to address their challenging behaviour”.

The unit “aims to meet each prisoner’s complex needs through improving their psychological health, their well-being, and their behaviour in a centre of excellence operated by highly motivated, highly trained and highly competent staff”.

Mr Mitchell said that the POA wanted the personal protection equipment that is given to staff in the VRU – including batons and bodycams – to be provided to all staff.

Staff supports

The IPS offers supports to staff, such as the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), an independent counselling service, and a Serious Physical Assault Scheme.

All staff have access to the EAP, with three full-time national employee assistance officers. The programme is supported at local prison level by a network of almost 50 voluntary staff support officers, which provides a confidential service offering information, advice,  and onward referrals on a wide range of personal and work-related issues.

The programme plays a key role in supporting staff, particularly those who have been injured on duty.

Counselling service

The provision of an independent counselling service for staff, which is provided by Inspire Workplaces, has also been an important addition to the supports available to staff, the prison service says.

This free service is completely confidential and is designed to assist employees in resolving personal or work-related concerns.

It is a Freephone helpline available 24 hour hours a day, with access to up to six counselling sessions for support covering a wide range of issues. Feedback from staff on this initiative has been very positive, the prison service says. 

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