The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) has received of copy of the Report of the Inspector of Prisons, published on the 3rd November 2015.
The report raises many important matters in regard to the ‘Culture and Organisation’ in the Prison Service – especially in regard to the need for training within the service.
We are surprised and disappointed by the Inspectors comments in regard to the culture within the service, which in very broad terms raises issues of unprofessionalism and inappropriate behaviour. Such comments, which more or less constitute opinions, would be more valid if supported by some form of evidence and specific detail. The job of the prison officer is extremely difficult, as he or she endeavours to cope in a stressful and often dangerous environment. This is a tough environment where prison officers show immense skill, professionalism, patience and courage on a daily basis in the very best interests of colleagues, prisoners and the service.
We have read with interest the views of the inspector on ‘Staff Learning and Development – an area which is grossly underfunded and does not have the necessary support of the Prison Service Management. The report mentions ‘support and mentoring programmes’, which must seem a long way off for our members who often find themselves in very difficult situations when confronted with violence, malicious complaints and threats as part of their daily work. The concern expressed by some staff in the report that ‘they had received no specific training on being appointed to these (more senior) posts from their previous junior grades’, is an understandable concern, often expressed directly to the POA.
The POA can also identify with the comment in the report, which states that, ‘In many jurisdictions prison officers feel they are the forgotten people of the criminal justice system’ – and we trust that the Irish Prison Service has also noted this comment.
The acknowledgement by the Inspector that the POA ‘plays an important role within the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ is welcomed. The fact that the POA has used its ‘profile’ in the best interests and ‘to the advantage of its members’ is also recognised.
One senior person within the IPS has informed the inspector that some governors had ‘subcontracted their responsibilities to the POA’. This is simply not the case, as the POA has no role in operational matters; however we do actively pursue the interests of our members in all prisons and will continue to do so to the best of our ability.
We further note the anomaly between creating a flatter and fit-for-purpose organization at prison level and seemingly creating a more layered hierarchy at IPS headquarters in Longford.
We also welcome the acknowledgement within the report that there doesn’t appear to be a clear strategy to deal with the prison Gangs – a matter of deep concern to the POA for well over a decade. Hopefully the IPS will now take note of this most serious and potentially explosive development within our prison system.