Calls for ‘robust action’ over offensive social media posts by prison staff

Prison management tries again to have private staff group removed from Facebook

“Robust action” must be taken against prison officers who make racist comments online, a penal reform group has said.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) was reacting to an Irish Times report concerning a private Facebook group for prison staff where serving members have made racist and anti-Traveller comments.

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) tried to get Facebook to remove the group due to its offensive content but the social media giant ruled it did not breach its community standards. The IPS has tried again to get the group removed apparently without success.

The private group, “Irish Jailers, Warders and Buckets”, is made up for 648 serving and retired prison staff, down from 670 at the start of the week.

Reacted angrily

On Wednesday and Thursday members of the group, including serving prison officers, reacted angrily to media reports about the comments, with several calls to find out who the “rats” are.

“It’s a private group so f**k them! Whatever rat is sneaking back with stories should be beaten to a pulp. Scummy f**kpig! Keep the posts coming!” wrote one person understood to be a prison officer.

“Have all rat b******ds been removed from the group, or are there more that need to be smoked out,” another prison officer wrote.

“I’d say a few more have to be smoked out,” replied one of the groups’ moderators, who is also a serving officer.

IPS personnel were recently brought under the Civil Service Disciplinary Code which forbids “behaviour which could bring the organisation into disrepute” and “inappropriate use of social media”.

Recent comments on the Facebook page include calls for black people protesting the recent death of George Nkencho to be deported and posts using derogatory language towards Travellers.

Posters also shared racist memes, including an image of an armed Liberian militiaman with the caption “Simon, 23, Balbriggan”.

The IPS said the group and posts are in no way connected with the service and do not reflect its values. It declined to discuss what, if any, disciplinary action may be taken.

Sources said IPS management is examining the issue but believes it may not be able to take any action regarding private social media comments.

The IPRT said it is “shocked and seriously concerned” by the comments. Potential racist comment from serving officers “brings into question their fitness to carry out their duties”, it said.

‘Offensive material’

“There is no doubt that posting such inappropriate and offensive material on social media is inappropriate in any public service, not least the prison service where people are at high risk of mistreatment and rights violation.”

It said “further investigation is needed and appropriate action must be taken”.

A prison source said the vast majority of staff, including members of the Facebook group, disapprove of such comments. “It really is a tiny minority at this. It’s important people release that,” said an official.

Most of the group’s comments consists of ordinary talk about day-to-day work in the IPS, another source pointed out.

According to 2019 data, about 25 per cent of the prison population is non-Irish, with about 3 per cent coming from an African country. Travellers make up about 10 per cent of the male prison population, according to 2017 data.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times

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