Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

29 and 30: Staff training and Professional Relationships Spotlight 2

Standard 29:

All staff receive relevant ongoing training and supports in order to effectively carry out their duties to a high standard.

Standard 30:

Good relationships between management, staff and prisoners are facilitated and encouraged. Management ensure that a positive working culture is created in the prison.


Prisons are institutions where the most important aspect is relationships between people:

the most important elements are human beings [...] Real change in any prison system cannot take place without the involvement of both staff and prisoners [...] The key feature for the success or failure of any prison system that is to be run in a decent and humane manner is the relationship between prisoners and the prison staff with whom they come into contact on a daily basis. [603]

It is important that prison management carefully recruit and select staff who work to professional standards, as management will be held to account by the Government and public. [604]

The Howard League for Penal Reform [605] identified a number of issues related to the role of the prison officer, some of which may also have relevance in this jurisdiction:

The role of the prison officer cannot be under- estimated:

Those who work in prisons perform an important public service, and they often work in difficult, stressful and sometimes dangerous conditions. They are required to work with individuals who have multiple needs, including mental health conditions, suicidal or self-harm tendencies and histories of abuse, deprivation and addiction. Therefore, it is likely that they will encounter violent and abusive prisoners, some of whom have posed major threats to public security in the past. In poorly managed facilities, staff might also be subjected to discrimination by colleagues or managers. [606]

The diverse skillset of the prison officer must also be acknowledged:

The role and functions of prison staff are often misunderstood or subject to negative stereotyping. The media and public might perceive their role as simply to lock people up. In fact, prison staff also play a key role in the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners and their job is complex and multi- faceted, requiring a specific and diverse skill set, including good interpersonal skills and the ability to deal with many different and often challenging situations and individuals. [607]

There is a need for the role of the Prison Officer to receive greater acknowledgement by the State and general public:

Prison authorities should have accountability to an elected legislature and the public should be regularly informed about the State and aspirations of the prisons. Government ministers and senior administrators should make clear that they hold prison staff in high regard for the work they do and the public should frequently be reminded that prison work is an important public service. [608]

Leadership within the prison system is given as the primary success factor for Grendon Prison (discussed earlier) in England. As HM Chief Inspector of Prisons [609] highlighted:

This was in no small part down to the strong, principled and focused leadership of the prison, which provided more junior staff and prisoners with role models, exemplifying the positive behaviour and thinking expected of them. Not every prison can or needs to be a therapeutic community, but the values, principles and practice seen at Grendon could provide positive lessons and inspiration for other prisons.

Current context:

The Irish Prison Service has developed a Higher Certificate in Custodial Care, a two-year programme for recruit prison officers that includes a number of modules including equality, diversity, social and cultural awareness, human rights and criminal justice, criminology and penology. [610]

In 2018, the Irish Prison Service continued its recruitment campaign [611] for new prison officers, the first recruitment that took place since 2008. [612] This recruitment campaign placed emphasis on specific characteristics of tolerance and humanity, and particularly welcomed applications from females and ethnic minorities. [613]

Despite concerns raised about prison staffing levels over the last year (following 148 retirements in 2017, 99 in 2016 and 100 resignations since 2016[614]), the ratio of prison officer to prisoner in Ireland is relatively high at 0.76:1. [615] In some prisons this ratio is lower, such as the Midlands Prison where it is 0.68. [616] At the end of 2017, the Irish Prison Service had 3,186.06 whole-time equivalent staff (including civilian grades and headquarters staff). [617] The Irish Prison Service is fewer than 82 prison officers short of its authorised complement of 3,153 staff. [618]

Despite this, the impact of staffing levels in 2017/2018 has been identified as an issue, with retired officers hired back on six-month contracts. [619] This issue has also resulted in the closure of workshops and schools, impacting on prisoner regimes (see Standard 18). Another reason that may be given for this issue is the high levels of sick leave, with civil service statistics showing the highest average working days lost by sickness at 15.7 for the Irish Prison Service. [620]

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 29

Indicator S29.1: Training in human rights and equality including UNCAT for existing and new staff: The Higher Certificate in Custodial Care includes a module on Human Rights. While the Irish Human Rights Commission previously provided training, it has not conducted training with the Irish Prison Service since it became the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. [621]

Indicator S29.2: Adoption of CoE Code of Ethics for Prison Staff with annual assessments: In conjunction with University College Dublin, a Strategy and Policy Group has been set up for ethics training. The Irish Prison Service has developed a new Code of Ethical Behaviour for prison staff. As part of the training, there are two one-day workshops on ‘Ethical Dilemmas in Prison Based Contexts’. [622]

Indicator S29.3: Supports for staff: INSPIRE is a self-referral counselling service available to staff for personal issues. [623] The Irish Prison service has a Well Being at Work Policy to enhance physical and mental health supports for staff. [624] The Irish Prison Service also states that the roll out of Critical Incident Stress Management is in progress, with peer support training provided to all Staff Support Officers. [625]

Indicators for Standard 30

Indicator S30.1: Measuring the Quality of Prison Life (MQPL) survey or equivalent is conducted on an annual basis, with per-prison results published: The Irish Prison Service has conducted an MQPL survey in seven prisons;[626] however, this has not been published. The Prison Service states that it will carry out surveys on the attitudes of prisoners and staff in prisons every three to four years. [627]

Progressive Practice:


Under the Prison Act 2006, prisoners are treated as individuals and their prison term aims at certain goals. [628] The competency-based curriculum for prison officers is divided into three main areas: (1.) security and safety, (2.) rehabilitation and social integration, and (3.) law and ethics. [629] The programme is broken down into five key areas:

  1. Prison as the institution (e.g. knowledge about the organisation of prison services)
  2. Prison security (e.g. communication, crisis- conflict management)
  3. Imprisonment, convicted and remand prisoners (e.g. knowledge about mental health, addiction and social problems)
  4. Criminality (theories behind criminality)
  5. Prevention of criminal behaviour (e.g. sentence planning). [630]


Norwegian prison officer training is underpinned by the belief that a prisoner can change –“they need to believe that a prisoner can change…a good prison officer is someone who sees the inmates where they are”. [631]

Actions required:

Action 29.1: The Irish Prison Service should provide relevant and refresher training and supports to staff, including on UNCAT and Section 42 of the Public Sector Duty.
Action 29.2: An examination of staffing levels should be conducted to address their impact on the current prison regime.
Action 30.1: The Irish Prison Service should facilitate and publish independent research to assess relationships between prisoners, staff and management in the prison environment.


IPRT Irish Penal Reform Trust


Copyright 2019 Irish Penal Reform Trust. CHY number: 11091

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