Miscategorisation of offenders ‘putting prison officers in danger’

Attacks on three prison officers at Portlaoise provide cause for alarm, according to union

The Prison Officers’ Association claims its members are being put at risk. Above, Mountjoy Prison Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

The Prison Officers’ Association claims its members are being put at risk. Above, Mountjoy Prison Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

 

Decisions taken by management at the Irish Prison Service (IPS) have contributed to situations where staff members are being placed in danger, according to the Prison Officers Association (POA).

The comments from the union follow a series of attacks at the Midlands Prison yesterday in which three officers were hospitalised.

This position is not accepted by the Irish Prison Service.

According to POA deputy general secretary Jim Mitchell, one of the officers received 16 stitches after being slashed with a makeshift blade, while staff members involved in a subsequent incident sustained broken ribs and a broken ankle.

The assaults occurred in a so-called “enhanced” section of the facility where a number of sex offenders who are deemed to be lower-risk inmates are held.

“In an area of the prison that wasn’t adequately covered by CCTV, one prisoner tried to slash another across the face with a makeshift blade. Our members intervened to try and stop the attack...

“Unfortunately in this situation the categorisation of the prisoner was not proper, and the violence shows that,” Mr Mitchell told RTÉ radio this morning.

Mr Mitchell said miscateogrisations of prisoners, a row back by the IPS on the use of guard dogs in detention facilities and staffing reductions were all contributory factors to the attacks, which happened less than three weeks after Portlaoise inmate Derek Brockwell stabbed two prison officers before escaping from custody on a hospital visit.

“If you take a look at the incident earlier on this month in Tallaght a particular security status was placed on this prisoner and then in January 2014 this status was for some reason reduced. As it was shown afterwards, the reduction of the status was misplaced,” he said.

The POA is currently in the process of balloting its members for industrial action. A result is expected at some stage on Wednesday following an anticipated meeting with Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.

Mr Mitchell also warned the alleged training of gardaí and members of the Defence Forces to replace prison officers in the event of a strike was a “retrograde” step.

“We believe An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces are being trained in to try and take our places should industrial action occur... we believe this is a very retrograde step.

“Surely they have other things to be doing rather than coming in as strike-breakers,” he said.

A spokesperson for the IPS reiterated claims that the union’s stance on management practices within prisons was “inaccurate and misleading”, and that threats of strike action are “hugely disappointing” given commitments undertaken as part of the Haddington Road Agreement.

He also said any reference to the use of patrol dogs was in no way applicable to the events in question because such a security measure would never be deployed on prison landings.