Jim Mitchell, Deputy General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association, speaking at their Annual Delegate Conference in Sligo this morning said, “The numbers, motivation and behavior of prison gangs within our prisons is a major concern for individual prison officers and this association. In our major prisons, in particular, individual prison officers must deal with threats of violence, prisoner on prisoner assaults and personal assaults on a daily basis”
Mitchell continued, “There are roughly 28 different gangs and factions operating within Mountjoy prison alone, some are well known and high profile. There are over 230 prisoners on protection within the prison, for their own safety – and this adds to the burden placed on prison staff. Not alone must we ensure the security around ongoing detention we must manage and control systems, which protect the gangs from each other and protect individuals from assaults by gang members, for various reasons”
Mitchell said, “Life in prison mirrors the practices and behaviors in wider society. The majority of prisoners just want to serve their time – and large numbers get involved in rehabilitation activities. Not so with the minority; especially those linked to the major gangs, who view time in prison as an extension of the gang culture with all the accompanying violence and control over other vulnerable people. This activity involves feuding, assaults, threats, drug and weapon smuggling and an ongoing determination to control crime and punishment on the outside”
Mitchell concluded, “This is a most serious and continuing problem, and we ask the Minister here today to put systems in place, which will reduce the impact of gangs and related violence with our prisons”
Also speaking at the conference today, POA President Tony Power said, “Over many years we have been calling for the introduction of standardised ‘Personal Protection Equipment’ (PPE) for staff, such as batons, pepper spray etc. – We welcome reference to PPE in the Irish Prison Service ‘Draft Strategy Statement 2019-2021’. The IPS is now committed to investing in standardised PPE for all staff. Let’s hope they carry out this strategy and give our members the equipment they require and most definitely deserve to ensure their safety at work.
Power continued, “In one week alone in March this year over 50 packages of contraband were either delivered by drones or thrown into the exercise yards in Wheatfield Prison. Without investment in nets for these yards the only workable interim solution is to stop prisoner exercise on Reserve period.
Much was made in the National Media 3 weeks ago on the successful prevention of contraband entering Castlerea Prison by drone. In March of this year staff successfully prevented another such attempt in Mountjoy Prison. A prison service spokesperson, as quoted in the Irish Times said, “the Irish Prison Service is exploring a number of technology options to deal with this problem”. I ask what options are these and how soon can we expect them to be rolled out in our prisons? I hope we are not waiting as long for the solution here as we have been for the introduction of mobile phone blockers”
“Power concluded, “The danger linked to these incidents is unquantifiable Prison Officers, as officers will put their own Health and Safety at risk in an effort to retrieve this contraband. Up until 2014 our canine unit had the facility to use Patrol Dogs in such situations but some genius decided that staff in blue shirts would be more effective than these highly trained dogs”
At the annual Prison Officers Association Conference in Sligo, the issue of overcrowding in our prisons was again back on the agenda.
Tony Power, President of the Prisoners Officers Association, speaking at the conference said, “Prisoners’ sleeping on mattresses on floors is becoming an all too common sight again but yet our Open Centers remain below capacity. Prisoner numbers have continued to rise year on year from 3745 in April 2017 to 3890 in April 2018 and up again to 4049 in April 2019. Taking one landing at the Midlands, initially designed to hold 38 prisoners, it regularly has prisoner numbers in excess of 65 and this is mirrored in many of the prisons”
Power continued, “Overcrowding provides the perfect atmosphere for the bully to thrive and exert huge pressure on vulnerable prisoners in particular to traffic in contraband, including weapons and illegal drugs. Serious violence is often part of the scenario here and we prison officers pay the inevitable price. Overcrowding puts both prisoners and prison officers at unnecessary risk – and this is totally unacceptable”
Power pointed out that, “Over the last year overcrowding made an unwelcome return to our prisons – a problem, which always and ever creates major challenges for prison officers on the ground. The IPS Strategy Statement refers to the reopening of the Training Unit in Mountjoy, but Minister, not one red cent has been spent on it since the decision was taken to close it in 2016. So we need to clarity on this issue as a matter of urgency”
Power concluded. “I regretfully must raise the issue of overcrowding Minister, as all of us believed this was a historic issue. None of us want a return to the ‘Pack em, Stack em and Rack em days’ of the past, where both prisoners and prison officers pay a heavy price – you simply should not allow this to happen on your watch”
At the Prison Officers Association Conference in Sligo this morning 2nd May 2019, the POA President Tony Power highlighted serious concerns around recruitment and staffing levels in our prisons.
Power said, “Some prisons had staffing shortfalls as high as 40 or 50 a day due to the mismanagement of the Additional Hours system. In the Midlands for example, due to this mismanagement, there have been days when the prison operated fully with less than 60% of the agreed staffing levels on duty. This bad planning is surely putting both staff and prisoners at risk”
Tony Power continued, “A Regime Management Plan, much lauded by the former Director General, was to be put in place in each prison to ensure staff and prisoner safety but alas this Regime Management Plan was and remains nonexistent in most institutions.
The Irish Prison Service recently began another recruitment campaign for Recruit Prison Officers and whilst the POA welcome any recruitment that will help us achieve something close to the agreed Prison Officer numbers in every prison I must advise caution!
When Minister Flanagan spoke in March this year at the launch of that particular Recruitment Campaign, he lauded the fact that 216 recruit Prison Officers would help to bring the overall staffing compliment of the Irish Prison Service close to full strength. This would be the case except that neither the Minister or the Irish Prison Service have factored in the vast number of prison staff that can and are retiring, having completed their service. The shortfall of staff on the floor in our prisons, and I emphasise ON THE FLOOR as there never seems to be a shortfall of managers, has been and will continue to be a matter of grave concern to the Prison Officers Association”
Power concluded, “This problem is not new. At our Annual Delegate Conference in 2017 my predecessor Mr. Stephen Delaney spoke about staffing levels and asked the then Minister Ms. Frances Fitzgerald to fight for the Prison Service. She failed to do so. At last year’s Conference my predecessor once again spoke about staffing levels and the long awaited recruitment drive. The net result is that we have operated with unacceptably low staffing levels over the past 12 months and this must be addressed”.
The Spring 2019 edition of the Prison Officer Magazine is available for viewing in the Members Section of this website
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