Urine, spitting, an iron bar - prison officers detail litany of attacks

POA wants action on assaults by prisoners, not ‘hugging philosophy’ from managers

The Prison Officers Association says at least 13 of its members have been assaulted by inmates over the past year. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/THE IRISH TIMES

The Prison Officers Association says at least 13 of its members have been assaulted by inmates over the past year. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/THE IRISH TIMES

 

Prison officers were regularly being attacked, in one case sexually, by prisoners even as inmates were benefitting from the current “hugging philosophy” practiced by the Irish Prison Service, their union has said.

The Prison Officers Association (POA) has detailed a litany of assaults on its members by prisoners and is now calling on Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to intervene.

It wants violence against its members analysed with a view to making prisons a safer working environment.

Association president Stephen Delaney said managers who believed in “hugging away the problems of the world” but “never had to walk a prison landing” were appeasing prisoners.

Mr Delaney told the opening session of the union’s annual conference in Kilkenny of a range of prisoner on officer attacks over the past year.

The conference will also discuss what the officers say is a worsening situation around the ongoing issue of prison gangs and the influence they exert. Delegates will also raise issues related to their pay, though assaults by prisoners is of primary concern.

Mr Delaney said the assaults on his members were not being taken seriously and action was not being initiated against the prisoners involved.

“In June three officers were attacked (and) in July two staff were injured, which involved one recruit ingesting blood in a vicious attack,” he said of incidents in Cloverhill Prison, Dublin.

“In August an officer in Cork was attacked and hospitalised with a head injury (and) in September, also in Cork, a prison officer’s car was petrol bombed in front of their home.

“Last October in Mountjoy two officers were attacked and one bitten in a serious assault. In November in the Midlands an officer was attacked and sustained a head injury.”

Mr Delaney also spoke about serious attacks on female prison officers. In one case an officer was grabbed by the hair and “smacked off a wall”. And in the Midlands Prison, Portlaoise, a female officer had been sexually assaulted.

In other attacks an office had urine thrown over them and another was attacked with an iron bar. And in January a prisoner spat in the face of a prison officer.

In the face of such serious incidents, Mr Delaney said the Irish Prison Service appeared to see attacks on staff as “a statistical anomaly to be ‘interpreted’ and logged”.

It was no longer good enough on the part of the Department of Justice and prison service to regard attacks on officers as an occupational hazard.

“I am now calling on (the) Minister to announce an independent analysis of assaults on our members while at work,” Mr Delaney said.

“This analysis should lead to recommendations on how our members can experience a safe place of work. Surely this is not too much to ask in 2018.”