Local prison officers have expressed serious concerns about the impact of budget cuts on staffing levels in prisons, including Maghaberry and Hydebank.
The officers said there has already been a reduction in staff, which has resulted in a significant increase in assaults and incidents in the local prisons, and there are fears that even more cuts may be on the horizon.
The views of the local officerds were supported by Lagan Valley MLA and Chairman of the Stormont Justice Committee, Paul Givan, who has warned the Department of Justice that the Northern Ireland Prison Service is “under huge strain with staff on the front line bearing the brunt of the pressures.”
Following a written question from Mr Givan, the Justice Minister, David Ford, revealed that assaults on prison officers had increased to 94 during the year August 2013 to July 2014.
The Minister also revealed there are 129 members of staff were on sick leave as of September 2014.
Mr Givan’s warning comes after he received information indicating the number of assaults on prison staff has doubled in the last three years and prisoner attacks on prisoners has reached over 1000 in the past three years.
“These figures bare out what prison staff have been telling me,” said Mr Givan. “The pressure Prison Officers are under is immense and the dangers they face are increasing.
“The failure of the Prison Service’s management to ensure staffing levels are at the required levels in HMP Maghaberry and HMP Hydebank has exacerbated the problem.
“Given the crisis facing the Department of Justice budget, the ability to recruit new staff is very remote, adding further pressure on a system close to breaking point.
“An increased number of resignations of staff over the past two years also demonstrate a potential decline in morale among officers.
“I am deeply concerned that staff safety is being compromised and the potential danger of prisoners taking control inside the prisons, in a riot situation, is a very real threat. The dangerous consequences this would have for both prisoners and staff should not be underestimated.
“I will continue to raise my concerns with the Justice Minister who needs to take control of what is happening within the Northern Ireland Prison Service before an officer is seriously injured.”