The Commons Public Accounts Committee has found that prison staff took an average of nearly three weeks off a year through ill health in the last financial year, at a cost of pounds 56 million to the taxpayer. At one women's prison, East Sutton Park, staff took an average of more than five weeks sick leave - more than the average annual leave in the UK.
Prison Service officers took an average of 13.8 sick days a year, double the 6.4 days in privately-run prisons. More than 40% of prison governors said the absenteeism was affecting their ability to maintain a "safe environment".
Absence rates varied hugely between different prisons, ranging from 2.5 days in one to 26.2 days in others. Six prisons, however, did not even bother to offer any statistics.
The discrepancies indicated "poor management practices, and possibly an acceptance of high levels of sickness absence, in the poorly performing prisons", the committee said.
There was also a wide difference between male and female absence rates, with women taking an average of 18 working days off sick compared with 13 days for men.
Most of the absences were caused by stress and depression, though back injuries were another major factor as were colds and 'flu.Reuse content