Prisoners face ‘no punishment’ for attacking officers

Prison Officers’ Association says management needs to introduce a more cohesive system

Prison Officers’ Association deputy general secretary Jim Mitchell who said local management in some prisons were not adhering to a new system designed to  prevent prisoners from engaging in violence against officers again.

Prison Officers’ Association deputy general secretary Jim Mitchell who said local management in some prisons were not adhering to a new system designed to prevent prisoners from engaging in violence against officers again.

Thu, May 8, 2014, 16:19

Prisoners attacking staff in jails across the State are being transferred to other prisons where no steps are being taken to punish them or prevent them engaging in violence again, the Prison Officers’ Association has said.

Association deputy general secretary Jim Mitchell said clear procedures had been put in place aimed at adopting a cohesive system in which violent prisoners would be dealt by the prison system as a whole rather than in an ad hoc manner from jail to jail.

However, local management in some prisons were not adhering to the new system.

This meant if a prisoner was transferred out of a jail into another facilitate, the disciplinary process that should follow the prisoner were not be carried over.

The POA said its members were constantly subjected to attacks by prisoners and management across the service needed to follow the agreed procedures.

According to the association once a prisoner was transferred out of a jail where they had been violent or had attacked staff, an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude prevailed.

Mr Mitchell told the annual conference of the POA in Sligo staff were being put at risk and prisoners were being given a message that they could do what they wanted and the system would not punish them.

He added being attacked should not be regarded as an occupational hazard for his members.

“In the last 12 months we negotiated a policy whereby violent and disruptive prisoners are appropriately dealt with. Unfortunately it has come to light that local management are bypassing elements of this system.

“Prisoners are acting with impunity and attacking our members with alarming regularity and that should be dealt with under the new system. But mangers are turning around and saying ‘no, we’ll do it this way’.”

Under the new ‘violent and disruptive prison protocols’, prisoners face loss of remission and also day to day privileges such as phone calls to family and loved ones and visits.

Once a prisoner is included for handling within the protocols, depending on the frequency and nature of attacks they have been involved in, extra staff are provided when they are being transferred and prison officers dress in protective clothing when dealing with them.

As behaviour stabilises, those precautions are decreased with a return towards a normalised regime aimed for. Association president, Stephen Delaney said there had been three serious incidents in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, where one prison officer was scalded, another “struck viciously about the head” and a third had “a blood spillage” smeared on his face.

Aside from attacks, Mr Delaney said that under a system introduced two years ago in which independent investigators are used to probe complaints made by prisoners against prison officers, some 94 per cent of complaints were found to be groundless. However, in some cases where an initial viewing of CCTV footage of an incident had completely contradicted the complaint and shown it to be vexatious, prison officers were still being subjected to an often lengthy and stressful investigation.

And in cases where complaints were proven to be vexatious, prisoners were not punished for this and staff were never provided with a copy of the full findings that had exonerated them.

He said this situation needed to be addressed because not only was the system deeply unfair to prison officers, the careers of those accused in the wrong could be damaged.