Assaults on prison staff at second highest in a decade

By Joe Ives
August 13 2020, 14.00

Assaults on prison staff in England and Wales are at their second-highest in the last ten years, according to the latest Ministry of Justice findings.

The Safety in Custody report published on July 30 showed a total 9,784 recorded assaults on prison staff during the March 2019-March 2020 period. 

Although slightly down on the number of reported incidents last year, the figure remains a part of an alarming trend, representing a 7,327, or 342%, increase from a decade ago. 

At 905, the number of serious assaults on staff in male prisons was also at its second-highest it has been in the last ten years.

Assaults on prison officers in female prisons rose for the seventh consecutive year, reaching 616, including a rise in serious assaults.

Mark Fairhurst, national chair of The Professional Trades Union for Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers (POA), points to a net reduction in prison officers over the past decade as well as an increase of prisoners with severe mental health conditions.

The effects of worsening conditions both for prisoners and officers can weigh heavily on staff.

“Mental health is a real, serious concern,” said Mr Fairhurst, who currently works at HMP Liverpool.

“We are seeing an increase in numbers having to leave the job because of PTSD, and with the increase in the retirement age to 68 most of us are going to die service instead of enjoying a retirement that offers us dignity in our old age.

“To do that job into your 60s is both physically and mentally cruel.”

These trends were also reflected in the number of assaults on staff per 1,000 prisoners in England and Wales. 

Male prisons experienced only a minor drop of 123 to 116 assaults on prison staff per 1,000 prisoners.  

At the same time, the number of assaults on prison officers per 1,000 prisoners in female prisons rose again, climbing to 164 – a 384% rise on 7 years ago.

As of August 7 2020, the UK prison population sat at 79,564, with 76,325 men and 3,239 women behind bars.

Fairhurst, who has worked as a prison officer for over 29 years, added: “The toughest aspects of it are dealing with the threat, the violence, the intimidation, the self-harm, trying to resuscitate people when they’ve tried to take their own lives.

“It all has a massive impact on your mental health, especially with a very severe lack of mental health support on-site in every jail.”

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “There has been a promising reduction in assaults in the past year and we are working hard to improve safety in our jails by spending £100m to bolster security and giving officers tools like PAVA pepper spray and body-worn cameras to make their jobs safer.”

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