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State Claims Agency review of assaults on prison staff

24th November 2016

The State Claims Agency has today published a major review of assaults on operational prison staff in Ireland.

The report can be accessed here.

The review was initiated in 2015, with the aim "to review the incidents of assaults on prison staff by prisoners, to determine the root cause, to comment on the potential for future reoccurrence and to make recommendations for improvement." The SCA reports that there was an annual average of 95 assaults per year in the five-year period from 2011 to 2015. 

It is clear that prison staff have the right to be safe at work, and to this end IPRT welcomes the report recommendations on conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques in the first instance, along with the use of improved risk assessment tools.

It is important to note that the report found that a small number of prisoners are involved in the assaults, and that these prisoners most often have established behavioural and mental health problems. The practice of detaining people with serious mental health issues in prison - an inappropriate environment that only exacerbates the issues - risks the safety of everyone, prisoners and staff alike. The lack of more suitable spaces at the Central Mental Hospital and in the community must be addressed with urgency.

Additionally, the practice of locking up prisoners with behavioural or mental health issues in isolation for 22 or more hours a day – a practice found to have irreversible negative mental health effects after just 15 days – should stop. 

Continuing efforts to address overcrowding, a policy of single cell occupancy as the norm, and reducing both the supply and demand for drugs in prison would also further enhance prison safety for prisoners and staff alike.

The State Claims Agency press release is available here.

The Report is available here.

Key Recommendations of the Review

(Source: State Claims Agency)

  • Operational Duties – Conflict Management: The IPS should refocus its emphasis on the management of prisoner behaviours using conflict resolution techniques to deescalate situations that could lead to physical violence through further training and selection of staff.
  • Operational Duties – Escorts: The IPS should review the use of escorts and explore opportunities to reduce the frequency of prisoners leaving prisons for court appearances and hospital visits – through greater use of video links with courts and improved on-site medical facilities within prisons.
  • Deterrent and Protective Equipment and Clothing: The current practice of prison staff not carrying batons as standard should continue. However, the review did make recommendations that batons should be carried as standard outside prisons while on escort. In addition, it was recommended that the IPS explore the use of incapacitant spray (pepper spray) to be used in a controlled manner for certain specific situations. The Review Group also does not recommend the routine wearing of body armour on the landing or within the perimeter of the prison but that it should be available for other activities subject to a needs analysis.
  • Prisoner Risk Assessment: The IPS should improve and standardise the approach of prisoner risk assessment to ensure that all personal information and security information gathered in respect of prisoners is available when making critical operations decisions.
  • Prisoner health and wellbeing:  As far as possible, extend existing arrangements to take prisoners with serious mental health issues out of the prison system for care in more appropriate locations.
  • Deterrent Measures: The IPS needs to develop a more transparent and graded deterrent and disciplinary procedure (based on severity of breach) to act as a deterrent against assaults on operational staff.
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