Prison Officers' Overtime

 

Sir, - In response to the recent media coverage of the high overtime earnings of prison officers may I draw your attention to the following which apparently has been omitted from the reports:

Of the £40 million spent on prison officers' overtime, £20 million returns directly to the Exchequer by way of tax and PRSI payments made by the officers. The £40 million is a false figure and is constantly being quoted without any reference being made to the tax paid.

The prison service functions on a 24 hour, 365-day basis. If a service to the State must be provided each day and night all year round, then the costs will be higher. Prisons do not shut down at 5 o'clock each evening or at weekends.

Prison officers work to an attendance roster agreed to in 1998 by the Department of Justice. It is the Department of Justice which wants prison officers working 12hours shifts and it is the Department of Justice which wants prison officers to work overtime.

Prison officers are constantly ordered to work overtime and if they disobey that order they will either be fined the amount which it would have cost to employ them or they will be charged with a possible penalty of dismissal from the service.

A large portion of the sick leave which prison officers take results from assaults or injury on duty.

Maximum security must be placed on prisoners whenever they leave the prisons for whatever reason. These people have committed crimes against the community and individuals and their crimes include murder, rape, serious assault and child molestation. Maximum staffing levels on escorts must be maintained to ensure that these prisoners do not escape back into the community to reoffend.

Comparing the work of prison officers to that of teachers is highly questionable when the following is considered:

Schools are not open all year round, nor are they staffed during the night.

Teachers work a five-day week not a roster system which involves weekend work.

Teachers are not requested by court order to produce their pupils in various courts throughout the country each day.

The media have failed to acknowledge that the work of a prison officer is clearly different from that of most other professions because of the risk each time a prison officer goes to work. It seems to be thought that just because violent criminals are behind bars they are no longer criminals. They are, and their violence continues against the staff working in the prisons.

Most business people will know that security on their premises costs a lot of money, as does the average home security system. The prison system is no different, only it's on a larger scale. If costs are cut, or if manning levels are dropped, standards will drop and the result will be a less than efficient service. Focusing on prison officers' overtime without pointing out the real reasons has become habitual for a number of journalists. It's time some serious comparisons were made, including a comment about the fact that the majority of prisons in Ireland are antiquated and dilapidated buildings which are bleak places to work in at the best of times - even on overtime. - Yours, etc., Alan Kavanagh,

National Executive Council Member, Prison Officers Association, Limerick Prison,

Limerick.