Survey of prison staff reveals toll of drugs and violence

With budgets down, prisons have cut costs and staff experience frequent violence.

Prison staff are experiencing frequent abuse, violence and passive drug-taking, according to the results of a new survey.

The survey, published by the Joint Unions in Prisons Alliance (JUPA), found that a quarter of staff working in prisons were a victim of recent physical violence. Of this quarter, 14% had faced violence more than ten times in the past year.

Of those who reported a physical assault to their employer, 57% were dissatisfied with the action taken. In a further 20% of cases, respondents said no action was taken at all. 

Almost two-thirds (63%) of survey respondents reported feeling unsafe at work in the last twelve months.

The survey also looks at the effect of exposure to psychoactive drugs – including spice – on staff.

Over half of staff said they had been exposed, and over a third reported becoming ill as a result.

Symptoms included light-headedness, dizziness, confusion and tiredness, nausea and vomiting , increased heart rate and blood pressure and anxiety and paranoia.

Paul Cottrell is the acting general secretary of UCU, the further and higher education union which represents prison educators. He said:

“Prison educators play a vital role in rehabilitating offenders and should not have to run the gauntlet of violence and drug exposure when they go to work.”

“This survey shows that not only is violence against staff in prisons shockingly frequent, they are also routinely subjected to the harmful effects of psychoactive substances.”

‘It is appalling that two-thirds of staff in prisons report feeling unsafe in their workplace, and that so many say their concerns aren’t being dealt with properly.”

“We urgently need much tougher action from the government and prison employers to improve the safety and working conditions of staff in our prisons.”

JUPA is calling for urgent action from the government, prison service and other employers in the sector to ensure: t

  • Tougher responses to violent incidents, including use of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (offences) Act 2018
  • Better health and safety reporting, including a single reporting system
  • Action to prevent exposure to psychoactive substances
  • Joint work between employers and unions to examine the causes and effects of violence against staff
  • More prison officers and other personnel to ensure safe and effective staffing levels

The Chief Inspector of Prisons in England and Wales has previously said there is a “pretty obvious correlation” between rising assaults and falling budgets for prisons.

“In recent years many prisons, short of staff and investment, have struggled to maintain even basic standards of safety and decency,” he said.

Around 20% of prisoners are now housed in private prisons, run by G4S, Serco and Sodexo.

Critics have said that private prisons cut costs in order to maximise profits.

Public ownership campaign We Own It say: “When private companies cut costs by reducing staff and training, they make both staff and inmates in our prisons vulnerable.”

3 Responses to “Survey of prison staff reveals toll of drugs and violence”

  1. Patrick Newman

    The real problems are too few prison officers and too many who are inexperienced and/or in need of training. Conditions are poor in most cases and which often involves serious overcrowding. At 89,000 the UK is well above the Western European prisoner population even of the next most incarcerating country (Spain). Cuts to the number of prison officers (7-8000) have nowhere near being restored in spite of a well-managed disinformation campaign by the government. We need far fewer people being taken away from family and community and locked away especially for just short sentences.

  2. Tom Sacold

    Clearly all prisons should be taken back into public control and ownership.
    But also the entire prison regime should be tightened up and proper security imposed.

    I also read that islamic terrorists have virtually taken control in some prisons forcing conversion and making all prisoners live under sharia law.

    Our prison system should be designed to reform those capable of reform and keep secure and punish those that cannot.

  3. Patrick Newman

    Deprivation of liberty is a sufficient form of punishment. There is no justification for supplementing with degrading and inhuman conditions.

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