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Dublin: 17 °C Wednesday 15 August, 2018
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Life as a prison officer in Mountjoy: 'When something is about to happen, you just feel it in the air'

TheJournal.ie was given exclusive access to Mountjoy Prison last Friday.

Mountjoy 2 (1) Inside a cell in Mountjoy Prison. Source: Nicky Ryan/TheJournal.ie

“PRISON IS PRISON. It’s not supposed to be the most pleasant place. But you can’t look at someone as the crime they’ve committed. If you’re doing that, you may as well forget about being a prison officer.”

TheJournal.ie was given exclusive access to Mountjoy Prison last Friday to examine the challenges and rewards which come with a career in the Irish Prison Service. The people we spoke to did not shy away from the testing aspects of their jobs but added that appropriate training and preparation can help diminish the threat to their personal safety.

A recruitment drive is now taking place and the Irish Prison Service expects to appoint up to 120 recruit prison officers per year over the next three years.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

One prison officer we spoke to, who works with some of the most well-known prisoners on the Dublin campus, described how he keeps a professional relationship with the men he is tasked with overseeing and how a more humane approach to his job has helped create a relationship of mutual respect between him and those sent to prison.

“It’s really hard sometimes to avoid the news, like if there’s a high-profile trial or someone whose name you recognise is being sentenced. But when they arrive, you have to treat them like anyone else,” said the officer.

The way I think about it is that the judge has already judged them. They are here for a reason but you can’t let that get in your head. You’re dealing with guys who can sometimes be locked up for 22 hours of the day for their own protection.

“You don’t know what person is going to come out of it when you unlock it. That’s where the training kicks in. To be able to communicate with someone and speak honestly with them, it can really de-escalate a situation.”

The officer told TheJournal.ie that there is an element of risk in the profession but that it is minimised by the training they receive.

“Prison can be a violent place – there’s no way around that. But you are trained in de-escalation and conflict resolution. There have been so many times that I have used the techniques I’ve learned in the training college to my advantage and the advantage of my colleagues.

“Just talking to these guys in a calm voice with non-threatening body language can make such a massive difference.

But you do get some form of sixth sense for these things. When something is about to happen, you just feel it in the air. You could cut it with a knife. It’s a strange feeling when it does happen but you have to remember that you’re responsible for these prisoners and that’s something that no prison officer should take for granted.

Declan McBrearty is and Assistant Chief Officer (ACO) in the Irish Prison Service (IPS) and spent nine years working in Mountjoy. Now, he’s a tutor in the IPS college in Portlaoise where he is training the next generation of officer.

Conflict resolution

McBrearty explained that it takes two years to become a fully-fledged prison officer and that recruits “learn to talk about crisis and conflict management which focuses around skills of dealing with conflict in prisons”.

The ACO accepted that prisons can be a challenging place to work.

He added: “We are met with confrontation and violence from time to time but given the right training and the right mindset, we’re able to equip prison officers with the tools to deal with that.

“One of the most important things is language and communication skills; body language, your tone of voice, listening to people is so important. Skills are important but what’s really important is that you have the right character and right attitude. Right values being strong on teamwork, a high sense of self-respect.”

Circle0 Mountjoy Prison Source: Nicky Ryan/TheJournal.ie

But having moved to the training centre in Portlaoise, McBrearty admitted he misses the life of being a prison officer.

I never heard myself say it but I do miss working in Mountjoy Prison. You get a buzz when you’re back here. Anytime I come here, I get a buzz. I miss talking to prisoners and looking forward to getting back at some stage but I will be back.

The Irish Prison Service expects to appoint up to 120 recruit prison officers per year over the next three years.

Recruit prison officer is the entry level to the service. It takes three years of service and the Higher Certificate in Custodial Care (HCCC) before the new Recruit Prison Officer is appointed as an established prison officer.

Trainees start on €28,000 per year but can upwards of €50,000 per year by securing promotion.

The jobs announcement and application form can be found on www.publicjobs.ie.

Video by Nicky Ryan

Read: The Irish Prison Service needs more women and ethnic minorities to become prison officers >

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