Serious concern over levels of knife crime against prison officers

Prison Officers’ Association says six members have suffered serious attacks in six weeks

At the opening of the POA’s annual conference in Co Clare, association general secretary John Clinton said the prison service needed to act much more decisively to stem the increased number of knife attacks on officers. Photographer: Dara Mac Donaill

At the opening of the POA’s annual conference in Co Clare, association general secretary John Clinton said the prison service needed to act much more decisively to stem the increased number of knife attacks on officers. Photographer: Dara Mac Donaill

 

Knife attacks by inmates on prison officers have increased to critical levels and are now a cause of grave concern, the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) has said.

The officers’ union believes the Irish Prison Service is failing to respond properly to the problem despite six of its members having fallen victim to serious attacks in a six-week period.

In the worst incident, two officers were stabbed several times, one of them in the stomach, by a dangerous criminal during the course of a well-planned escape from custody while being escorted to a hospital appointment in Dublin.

At the opening of the POA’s annual conference in Co Clare, association general secretary John Clinton said the prison service needed to act much more decisively to stem the increased number of knife attacks on officers in the Republic’s jails.

“Over a six-week period recently, six of our officers were seriously assaulted and injured in the course of carrying out their duties,” he said.

“There is now serious concern about the growth of knife crime against staff in Irish prisons and the inadequate response by the [prison service] to this very serious issue.”

The POA has previously called for stab proof vests to be issued to its members and for more officers to be assigned to wings of prisons known to house the most unpredictable prisoners.

Mr Clinton said staff also continued to face the dangerous and complex issues that arise from criminal gangs operating in the prison setting.

And he believed new procedures established in recent years for prisoners to make complaints about their treatment at the hands of prison officers were being abused.

“The issues relating to gangs in prison and the ongoing issues regarding drugs continue to put immense pressure on the prison system,” he said.

“Vexatious reports by prisoners [about] prison officers are causing immense stress for hardworking officers who are getting very little support from the prison service.”

He added all of the issues had created an environment where industrial relations were at their “lowest point in decades”.

In mid February, armed robber Derek Brockwell, a 53-year-old from Glasgow, stabbed two prison officers at Tallaght Hospital where he had been taken from Portlaoise Prison for medical treatment for his diabetes.

Both of the injured officers required surgery and have not yet returned to work.

Brockwell, who absconded from a life sentence in Britain in 2012, was arrested in Belfast by the PSNI the day after the escape.

Last month two prison officers were stabbed by a prisoner armed with a makeshift knife when they unlocked him from a cell in the Challenging Behaviour Unit in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin.

Just days earlier an officer was slashed across the buttock by a sex offender in the Midlands Prison, Portlaoise, with two of his colleagues also injured in the same incident.