Prison staff lack training to restrain aggressive inmates

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The Independent Online
THE MAJORITY of British prison staff are not legally entitled to take action to stop rioting if it breaks out among inmates. Prison Service security reports seen by The Independent show that less than 40 per cent of prison officers and only 10 per cent of governors are legally able to carry out "control and restraint" techniques, although these are considered a mandatory requirement for all jail staff.

This means that, in the event of aggressive behaviour by a prisoner, most officers are not allowed to lay hands on the inmate.

The problems are worst at some of the highest-security prisons. At Wakefield, a high-risk dispersal prison, inspectors note that only 17 per cent of staff are trained in restraining prisoners. "This establishment has a serious deficit of trained staff at C&R basic level," the inspectors report.

At Eastwood Park, Littlehey and Holme House prisons and Northallerton young offenders' institution, none of the staff have received their minimum C&R training.

At Highpoint prison in Suffolk, the only staff legally entitled to lay hands on inmates are four instructors. The jail has no fire resistant clothing and is not able to provide support to other jails if rioting breaks out elsewhere. The inspectors note: "There is a grave danger of some serious mishap occurring."

The crisis stems from a decision by prison service chiefs, just over a year ago, to introduce new rules on training staff in control and restraint following the death of a remand prisoner at Belmarsh prison in south-east London.

Kenneth Severin, 25, died after a struggle in his strip cell in which six officers were used to restrain him. An inquest at Southwark Coroner's Court in December 1996 heard from prison nurses that he had been agitated and that when he was being subdued he shouted out for the police. "Gradually his voice got lower and lower, fading away ... then his voice stopped," one of the nurses said.

The hearing was told that the Prison Service recognised the potential dangers with C&R and had introduced a new regulation stating that any member of staff carrying out control and restraint must have undergone at least eight hours of refresher training within the past 12 months. The reports show the training has not been adequately carried out.

But Bev Lord, of the Prison Officers' Association, said the lack of C&R training was an indication of the Prison Service's lack of concern for the safety of staff and inmates alike. "We will not allow this situation to continue."

Last night the Prison Service said: "We maintain that prison staff have been given the fundamental C&R training necessary to carry out their work. We are seeking to rectify any deficiencies in refresher training as soon as possible."