State Claims Agency publishes major review of assaults on prison staff
24 November 2016
- Assaults on prison staff is an important and significant issue: 3% of operational prison staff (93 people) were directly assaulted by prisoners in 2015
- Number of assaults on operational prison staff may be increasing but evidence is not conclusive
- Total cost to State of assaults on prison staff estimated at €26m in period 2008 to 2015
- Review recommends a number of new policies including proposals on conflict management, new deterrent and protective equipment, and removal of prisoners with serious mental health issues from prisons
- Review also recommends improved technology to support assessment of prisoner risk
The State Claims Agency (SCA), part of the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA), has published a major review of assaults on operational prison staff in Ireland.
The review was initiated in 2015 following a number of violent physical assaults on Irish Prison Service (IPS) staff by prisoners. Its aim was 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 review found that there is some evidence to suggest that the number of direct assaults may be increasing but this evidence is not conclusive. It found that 3% of prison staff (93 people) were directly assaulted by prisoners in 2015, which was broadly in line with an annual average of 95 assaults per year in the five-year period from 2011 to 2015. Given that there were 17,206 committals to prison in 2015, the ratio of these assaults to the number of prisoners in the system is low.
The review, which looked at a range of operational, staff, prisoner and governance factors, found that assaults are carried out by a relatively small number of prisoners with an established pattern of challenging behaviours and/or mental health problems.
It also estimates that the total cost to the State of assaults on prison staff was approximately €26 million for the period 2008 to 2015.
Ciarán Breen, Director of the State Claims Agency, said: “The State Claims Agency has an important role in assessing risks to people who work for the State and identifying areas where changes can be made to improve their safety.
This review is a crucial step in reducing assaults on prison staff and in reducing the significant costs to the taxpayer of these assaults.”
Pat Kirwan, Deputy Director of the State Claims Agency and lead on the Review Group, said: “This review involved detailed interviews and surveys of staff, governors and management, benchmarking against other European Prison Agencies and extensive research and data analysis.
A very positive finding was that Irish Prison Service (IPS) management are strongly committed to addressing this risk and are supported by a staff that demonstrated an informed view of the complexity of the challenges involved. These are critical factors in driving change.
The facts gathered have enabled the review group to make important recommendations that can result in a real and tangible improvement in the safety of prison staff.”
Key Recommendations of the Review
- 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 disciplinarily procedure (based on severity of breach) to act as a deterrent against assaults on operational staff.