Substantial prison officer recruitment needed to keep pace with retirements

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

Email:

news@leinsterexpress.ie

prison

MInister Charlie Flanagan TD and Michael Donnellan, Director General of the Irish Prison Service in the visiting area of the Violence Rehabilitation Unit at the Midlands Prison. Picture: Alf Harvey.

More than 450 men and women are expected to have completed some or all of their training as prison officers in the three years to the end of 2019, according to the Irish Prison Service.

Apart from catching up with the recruitment freeze during the crash, the new recruits are needed to keep pace with expected retirements.

Twenty of the new recruits passed out at the Brian Stack Training College in Portlaoise this week according to the service which also confirmed that 192 officers completed phase 1 of their training in 2018.

The Service said 85 officers qualified in 2017 and up to 200 are expected to complete their training next year.

The ramping up of recruitment follows a freeze on the hiring and training of prison offers imposed during the economic crash.

Laois TD and Minister for Justice was present at the passing out of the 6th class to complete training in 2018 when he also opened a multi-million euro overhaul of the training college.

"This is important as we seek to return staffing levels in our prisons to their authorised numbers and it will allow scope for the Service to keep pace with expected retirements," he said.

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Speech by Mr. Charles Flanagan, TD, Minister for Justice and Equality, at Irish Prison Service Recruit Prison Officer Passing Out Ceremony Director General, invited guests and of course, the new staff of the Irish Prison Service and their families.

I am delighted to be here in Portlaoise for this special and important occasion.  It’s a day of celebration for you and your family, marking as it does, the successful completion of the first phase of your training, which included, I know, a 12-week comprehensive training programme based between this College and the West Dublin College.  And I believe you also had practical experience in the Midlands Prison, Arbour Hill, Dóchas Centre and Shelton Abbey.

This is a major milestone in your lives, the beginning of what I hope will be a long and rewarding career in the Irish Prison Service.  You are the 6th class of 2018 to pass out from the IPS College and you are part of the recruitment drive which will see, by the end of this year, a total of 192 new Recruit Prison Officers, joining the Service.  This is important as we seek to return staffing levels in our prisons to their authorised numbers and it will allow scope for the Service to keep pace with expected retirements.

The Irish Prison Service is making a significant investment in its staff with the enhancement and development of training facilities to support recruitment.  A new satellite training college, which has doubled the capacity to train new officers, has opened in the West Dublin Campus.  That, in addition to this fine facility, which I had the pleasure of officially opening earlier today, is evidence of the commitment the Irish Prison Service has made to support the training and development of all prison staff.

You, of course, will continue your training by completing the remodelled Higher Certificate in Custodial Care.  It has been co-designed and is being co-delivered by Waterford Institute of Technology and I’m sure the learning from it will provide you with the knowledge and information you need to do what is a very diverse and challenging job.  And of course, your learning will be enhanced by actual experience gained while working alongside experienced officers in our prisons.

The programme will teach you what it means to be a prison officer.  It will give you the skills, knowledge and competencies to work with the people in your care.  It will show you how to relate to those around you including not only the offenders in your care but your colleagues who stand with you and support you.  It will teach you about professionalism and the valued contribution you will make to society.  And it will instil in you the values of the Irish Prison Service namely - Teamwork, Integrity, Potential, Support and Safety.

Your work is challenging and important.  In many respects, it goes unseen by the wider community, but that does not mean it is unrecognised.  You enhance public safety by both holding prisoners securely and by providing care and rehabilitation.  You have the potential to make a real difference in the lives of prisoners and their families.  And you will have the greatest impact on prisoner behaviour by developing the ability to interact positively.  Prison officers influence every day through their engagement, behaviour, language, listening skills, attitudes and behaviours.

Prison Officers work in a potentially stressful environment.  They encounter conflict and distress. There are many key competencies required for the role - you will need to develop the ability to direct others, to support others, to show conscientiousness, adaptability, and communication skills.  However, you will also need resilience and to be able to manage your own stress and emotions.  I want to reassure you that the Irish Prison Service will provide you with the support and skills to help you maintain good emotional and more importantly good mental health.

So, good luck … on a path which will sometimes be challenging, but will always be worthwhile and I hope rewarding. 

And as I wish you well, can I also, finally, take the opportunity to thank your families and indeed all families of prison officers for their continued support.  That support is absolutely vital.  Our officers are sometimes faced with stressful situations as they deal with extremely vulnerable people on a daily basis.  These situations and experiences are not something that can be easily left behind when they leave the prison, but it is where you, their families, can help most, by providing the ongoing support, acceptance and understanding of the complex role of a Prison Officer. 

I wish you all well and every success for the future.