Prison officers who witnessed a serious assault in the Midlands Prison Portlaoise which was never prosecuted were not asked to for report on what happened, their representative body has claimed.
Speaking ahead of the Prison Officer Association's Annual Delegate Conference in Galway, John Clinton, General Secretary also highlighted another assault on an officer in the same prison which did not go to court because footage was not available from two CCTV recordings.
Mr Clinton said Prison Service is currently facing a staffing crisis which is having serious and dangerous impact.
"There are simply not enough Prison Officers to do what we are required to do. All of us are aware that retirements this year will exceed recruitment figures; this is not sustainable and it creates an ongoing additional risk for prison staff and prisoners.
“The reduced staffing levels contributes directly to the risk for prison officers with ever increasing levels of assaults. To add insult to the injuries inflicted on our officers there is no penalty for the prisoners involved," he said.
Mr Delaney claimed that staff, who have been seriously assaulted and report their assault to the relevant authorities, cannot get a conviction, in spite of a wealth of available evidence. He said that in one significant case there was even an admission of guilt from the prisoner, yet no conviction.
“In a highly publicised incident in the Midlands Prison in 2015 an officer was stabbed by a prisoner and the matter was reported to the Gardaí. Many staff present on the day were not asked for a report and in spite of the prisoner admitting to the assault in front of a Governor the DPP ruled that a prosecution could not proceed due to lack of evidence?
"In a similar incident in the same prison an officer was assaulted which can clearly be seen on a CCTV camera. However as another CCTV – that wouldn’t have shown anything any different - hadn’t been saved – the prisoner walked on a technicality!”
He said the issue of violence in prisons regrettably continues, with a number of very serious incidents involving assaults on prison staff in the past year. He said that mandatory sentencing, as raised by the Gardai at their conference is "undoubtedly needed" as one of the responses to assaults on our members, while carrying out their duties.
“In a recent analysis conducted by the State Claims Agency the projected level of assaults by prisoners on prison staff for 2017 was estimated at 107. Let’s just think about that for a minute; more than two prison officers per week will be assaulted in the course of their work. For the avoidance of doubt every prison officer knows and accepts the risks involved in our work but what we cannot fathom is why recommendations such as the compulsory carrying of batons are being rejected.
“The nature of these assaults included concussion, lacerations, cuts, fractures burns and bites. The most of these injuries were to the head and face thereby leaving a permanent reminder to the injured officer of the incident,” he said.
In her speech to the conference, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald acknowledged the challenging role a prison officer must fill.
"The role of a prison officer is a difficult and challenging one. Prison staff must deal with a wide range of complex issues and there are occasions when they are subjected to acts of violence. Following a number of serious assaults, the IPS facilitated the State Claims Agency in compiling a Review of Assaults on Operational Prison Staff by Prisoners.
"Assaults on prison officers are absolutely unacceptable and will not tolerated. I recognise you work in a dangerous environment and your safety is of paramount important. The rigours of the law must apply where assaults are concerned and sanctions must be implemented. In examining the legislation In this area I will take this into account," she said.
The Tánaiste said 80 new officers are coming on stream this year and a further 250 are to be recruited next year. Another 50 retired prison officers are to be rehired she said.