282 assaults on prison warders since 2011
Nearly 300 prison warders in Northern Ireland have been assaulted while on duty since 2011, the Justice Minister has said.
David Ford has said that 282 assaults have been recorded over the past four years.
A response to a Freedom of Information request last July by the Northern Ireland Prison Service shows that assaults on prison guards have risen dramatically in recent years.
The figures for 2008-2009 show that seven prison staff were assaulted across three sites, with four incidents reported in Maghaberry Prison, two in Hydebank Wood Young Offender’s Centre and one in Magilligan Prison.
The figures for 2013-2014 show that assaults on prison staff rose to 96 across the three sites, with 67 incidents in Maghaberry, 23 in Hydebank and six in Magilligan Prison.
The Justice Minister said that the assaults were largely the result of overcrowding in prisons, which he believes has been alleviated with the opening of a new block at Maghaberry Prison.
"The key issue was the issue of overcrowding. That appears to be the principal reason. With the opening of an additional block it has produced a better atmosphere and less difficulty."
Mr Ford also said that efforts were being made to ensure staff-to-prisoner ratios were appropriate.
This follows a statement in January in which the Justice Minister said that work was underway to ‘reconfigure’ Maghaberry.
"There is work being done to reconfigure it into three mini prisons so that those on remand are kept in different circumstances from those who are sentenced and those who are seen as top security requirements are managed in a different way,” said Ford.