BY ANY standard, the murder of a prison officer is an alarming development. All murders are heinous, but any assault on prison officers is an attack on the law-enforcement system itself.
It is a sad fact that prison officers in this country have regularly and routinely been shot down over the last three decades, with statistics suggesting at least one such officer is killed every year.
However, the murder of two prison officers in less than a week is a development that suggests a shocking escalation of what is already an unacceptable situation. There are now reports of a campaign deliberately targeting them.
Not only must those responsible for the murders of Nigel Jones, 38, and Trevor Serrette, 48 – as well as all those others killed over the years – be identified and brought to justice, but the State must, as a matter of urgency, review measures in place to arm prison officers with the tools they need to minimise risk and to deter attacks.
The issues are not limited to considerations about firearms policy. It is clear that many of the victims of these attacks have been armed, a fact which did not stop their assailants or change the end result.
Guns might actually lead to a false sense of security, in addition to raising other risks. While they may make killers think twice, it is really thorough training in weapons usage – not guns alone – that is key to making these arms useful to their bearers.
Therefore, the State and stakeholders should avoid knee-jerk reactions to the issue of gun licensing, or else consider the issue more holistically if this matter is subject to review.
What the State must attend to as a matter of urgency is dispelling the notion seemingly held by some that officers are not all – as a collective body – at risk. While the exact facts of specific cases remain for investigators to unearth, it should be stressed that a prison officer need not be subject to any specific or definite threat in order to be at risk.
The killing of one officer alone sends a chill effect throughout the entire law-enforcement apparatus – indeed this effect cannot be ruled out summarily from being part of the rationale for some of these attacks.
The State must consider whether it is supplying adequately robust training and secure-enough housing. Whatever measures are in place should be reviewed and regularly updated, especially in light of shifting intelligence.
Of concern is the lack of an inspector of prisons, a key post when it comes to disentangling often conflicting accounts of the standards enforced behind prison walls.
Such matters need to be attended to with greater urgency if officers are to have a fighting chance.