24. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of assaults on prison officers and staff working in prisons since 2016; the actions taken to deter these assaults; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21106/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I am advised by my officials in the Irish Prison Service that the number of recorded assaults on staff, by prison, from 2016 to 2018 are as outlined in the following table. Figures for 2019 are not yet available.
Table 1. Prisoner on Staff assaults
|Prison/Place of Detention||2016||2017||2018|
|St. Patrick's Inst.||0||N/A||N/A|
Every assault on a member of staff is treated as serious and appropriate action is taken by the Irish Prison Service, including the reporting of such assaults to An Garda Síochána for the purposes of investigation and criminal prosecution where appropriate.
Section 19 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 makes specific provision in relation to assaults or threats to peace officers including prison officers acting in the execution of their duty. Any person who assaults or threatens to assault a peace officer in the execution of their duty is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 12 months or both or on convictions on indictment to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years or both. In addition, the Act allows for judges to impose such sentences consecutively on persons found guilty of such offences.
In June 2015, following a number of serious assaults on prison staff, the State Claims Agency (SCA) commenced a review of assaults on prison staff by prisoners in accordance with Section 8 of the National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act, 2000.
In November 2016, the SCA presented the report to the then Tánaiste. The report noted many positive findings including that given the number of committals in 2015 the ratio of assaults to the number of prisoners in the system was very low. 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 unacceptable acts of violence.
The report contains a large number of recommendations. These recommendations were accepted and are being implemented - an undertaking that was included as a Key Action in the Irish Prison Service’s Strategic Plan 2016-2018. The Irish Prison Service is committed to creating a safer environment for all those who work or live within our prison walls. In addition, the Service is committed to ensuring that any staff member who is subject to or witnesses an assault is given the necessary supports in the aftermath of the incident.
I can further advise the Deputy that following a recommendation contained within the State Claims Agency’s Report on ‘Assaults on Operational Prison Staff by Prisoners’, a full review of the prisoner disciplinary system has begun.
Given the substantive nature of the recommendations, the Irish Prison Service has an implementation plan in place and is in the process of implementing these recommendations.