Section 19 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 specifically provides for 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 conviction 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.
Every assault on our front-line staff is treated as serious and appropriate action, including the reporting of such assaults to an Garda Síochána for the purposes of investigation and criminal prosecution, occurs where appropriate.
In June 2015, following a number of serious assaults on prison staff, the States Claims Agency 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 will be implemented – an undertaking that has been included as a “Key Action” in the Irish Prison Service’s Strategic Plan. 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.