Illness and suicide increase in prison staff

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The Independent Online
AN "ALARMING" number of prison governors have developed illnesses which they believe are caused by stress, while internal Home Office documents reveal that suicides among prison staff have doubled, writes Peter Victor.

A survey by the Prison Governors Association (PGA) reveals that at least 60 prison managers suffer from symptoms ranging from severe pain and loss of balance to panic attacks and a feeling that "my brain doesn't work". Bob Duncan, governor of Wakefield high security prison, said last week: "I don't know how I cope some days. I hear of colleagues cracking and I wonder why it doesn't happen to me. You just despair and wonder what you've managed to do all day."

These disclosures will add to the sense of crisis in the prison service since the escape of three life prisoners from Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight. The director-general, Derek Lewis, and prison officers are openly at odds over the reasons for the breakout. The trio remained free last night The majority of governors in the PGA survey complain of being unable to absorb what they read or hear. They report panic attacks, hyper-ventilation, digestive problems, aching muscles and disturbed sleep patterns, cold sweats and back pain.

There were 10 prison staff suicides last year - double the 1992 figure. Nine suicide attempts failed last year, up from one in 1989. Some were governors. Mr Lewis insists that the growth in staff suicides is related to their private lives rather than work, but governors say stress at work "must contribute".

Prison managers say they are collapsing under the strain of penal policy made by a Home Secretary more concerned with appeasing voters than with running jails efficiently. They accuse him of making policy with an eye to tabloid headlines and with little idea of the consequences.David Roddan, general secretary of the PGA, said prison management had become increasingly stressful since Mr Howard was appointed: "The prison population has gone up by 10,000 - 25 per cent. The goalposts are moving all the time. First we had the Strangeways riot and the Woolf report calling for a softer regime. Now we have market testing, privatisation and demands for tough regimes."

Prisoner of politics, page 10

Too lax, too harsh, page 21