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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 24 April, 2019
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'I'm the first face you see when you're sent to Mountjoy. Prisoners can be scared and vulnerable'

TheJournal.ie was given exclusive access to Mountjoy Prison.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

FEMALE PRISON OFFICERS can “bring something different” to the job and can de-escalate certain situations better than their male counterparts, according to one senior officer. This can be particularly true for a new inmate who has not previously spent time behind bars.

As part of our focus on the work that goes on in Mountjoy Prison, TheJournal.ie spoke with a number of different prison officers about their roles. Susan Foley is an Assistant Chief Officer (ACO) at Mountjoy.

She looks after the committals and discharges – essentially she is the first and last face you’ll see when you step inside the north Dublin campus as an inmate. For her, being a woman in a male prison can be a double-edged sword but Foley said that the women “bring something different” to Mountjoy.

There can be times where the “strict” approach can be beneficial when dealing with some of the more unruly prisoners, according to Foley. She told TheJournal.ie:

I don’t know – maybe there is something in the strict mammy approach. Sometimes you just shoot them a look and they know, ‘Right, I’m on thin ice here,’ and then they’ll do as ordered.

“But sometimes it can go the opposite way. For me, I just have to figure out a prisoner by talking to them. Communication is so important. You want to be able to have a conversation with them as you’ll be seeing them every day.” Foley’s job centres around committals and discharges, meaning she sees first time prisoners at their most vulnerable but also at their most volatile.

Prison0 Cells in Mountjoy prison. Source: Nicky Ryan/TheJournal.ie

She said: “Anyone coming into custody meets me first. I process them before they come in. So, I inform them why they’re here and go through the warrant. They are then brought into prison. Equally, when someone goes, I process them. “Every different type of person you imagine comes through.

“They could be regulars or it could be their first time. They could be violent or vulnerable or scared. Every sort of emotion comes through. “When it comes to our jobs, being a female prison officer in a male prison, we do the same duties as the men.

“Throughout my career, I’ve done all the physical stuff. There are certain things I can’t do like be present while a search is taking place.” She added:

But we bring something different from male officers bring I think. We have a tendency to de-escalate situations but maybe we can be responsible for escalating them because sometimes they don’t like dealing with female prison officers.

But Foley warned that the job isn’t for everyone. She explained that you’ll struggle if you’re not able to leave the job behind you when you clock off. Having a sense of humour, a thick skin and good interpersonal skills are also imperative, according to Foley. “It’s a great job; it’s challenging and it’s not for everybody. If you want something different everyday then you’ll like it. If you come in that gate with a sense of humour and leave the job behind you then you’ll enjoy it.

“We all live here basically. We spend a lot of time with the lads that are here. It’s about mutual respect. “There is an aspect of stigma being a prison officer. We’re behind this big grey wall and nobody knows what goes on because once someone comes in – that’s it, they’re in prison.

“So there’s this old image of an officer being a thug but it’s not like that. We’re exactly the same as everyone else and this is a community the same as it is on the outside.”

The Irish Prison Service expects to appoint up to 250 recruit prison officers this year. ‘Recruit prison officer’ is the entry-level position at 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

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