Prison service 'tackling unacceptable level of sick leave'

The boss of the Irish Prison Service says it is “tackling the unacceptable level of sick leave” among staff.

IPS director general Caron McCaffrey told the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that there was an absentee rate of 15.7 days-a-year among employees in the prison service in 2017.

She said there are limited international comparators available as very few countries publish sick leave statistics for their prisons.

However, she maintained that from figures that are available, the Irish sick leave level in 2017 was “at the lower end of the scale when compared to other prison services”.

She told TDs that the rate in Northern Ireland was 19.7, Denmark was 21.9, Latvia 18.88 and Slovenia was 15.3 days per staff member.

Ms McCaffrey added: “Prison Staff work in an extremely challenging environment in which, on a daily basis, they face unique circumstances unlike most others in the public sector.

“Notwithstanding this, the Irish Prison Service is tackling the unacceptable level of sick leave we are currently experiencing in two ways.”

She said firstly it is providing staff with “the best possible supports to target the work-related causes of sick leave”.

And secondly its efforts include “focused, structured management of all absences to identify and reduce absenteeism”.

She said the IPS is committed to strengthening the support it is providing for staff.

Ms McCaffrey said that in 2019 the IPS will complete the introduction of the Critical Incident Stress Management model of support interventions for staff, which has been endorsed by the State Claims Agency.

This model aims to minimise the emotional impact of critical incidents on staff and increase the resistance and resilience of staff to harmful stress. 

She paid tribute to IPS employees adding that many work “in a difficult and challenging environment to maintain a safe, secure and humane prison system which contributes to safer communities”.

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