Violent prisoners to face tougher penalties in crackdown against serious assaults on prison staff

There were 3,427 assaults on staff between June last year and June this year

Violence in jails will be met with tougher repercussions in a new crackdown against serious assaults on prison staff.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said perpetrators of serious assaults on staff will be prosecuted "unless there is a good reason not to".

The announcement is the result of a new joint protocol produced by the Prison Service, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Association of Chief Police Officers.

The protocol will detail how prisons, police and the CPS can work together to secure prosecutions of prisoners who commit serious assaults on staff or other serious crimes such as hostage-taking or arson.

It is already common practice for sentences handed to prisoners who commit offences to be served at the end of, rather than alongside, their initial prison sentence. However, the protocol will highlight the rights and roles of victims in prosecutions, and promote the greater use of personal statements to allow the victim to explain the impact the crime has had on them.

These new guidelines will provide additional guidance to prosecutors, who review all charging decisions in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors. There were 3,427 assaults on staff between June last year and June this year. While 25% were referred to police, the majority were dealt with by adjudication.

The new protocol will be fully implemented in prisons in England and Wales before the end of the financial year.

The MoJ said the measures would "help to improve crime reporting and information sharing, and most importantly it will improve the service to victims of crime in prisons, especially hard-working prisons staff".

The measures have been adopted as part of the Prison Service's wider violence-reduction strategy. The MoJ said work has begun to tackle gang related crime in London prisons.

The MoJ has also proposed new legislation in the Serious Crime Bill, currently going through Parliament, to ensure that prisoners who possess knives and other offensive weapons in jail will face prosecution under a new criminal offence punishable by up to four years in prison.

The department hopes this "will further strengthen the measures available to tackle the most serious violence in our prisons".

Prisons minister Andrew Selous said: "I am delighted that this new approach to investigating crime in prisons will ensure that those that attack staff are prosecuted and fully brought to justice.

"Violence in prisons is not tolerated and assaults on our hard-working staff are unacceptable.

"We have always had a complex and challenging prison population but are taking appropriate steps to ensure that we carefully manage the increased levels of violence."

Attorney General Jeremy Wright said: "This protocol will make it clear that prosecution should usually follow when prisoners assault hard-working prison staff. Prison officers deserve the greatest clarity and the best protection we can give them."

Commenting on the new protocol, Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Of course victims of violence in prison should have proper protection but, as well as sanctions and discipline, to make prisons safer you need adequate staffing levels, professionally trained officers and consistent, constructive regimes.

"Drastic budget cuts have led to the loss of 12,500 staff in three years and mounting tension as prison numbers continue to climb."

Mark Leech, editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales, said: "Of course prison officers deserve justice; they do a dangerous job containing violent people - but this new policy is just rhetoric and likely to be a waste of time and money.

"Just what is the point prosecuting someone for violence against prison staff who is already serving a life sentence?

"Such prosecutions block up the courts and increases the legal aid bill without any discernible benefits to the public at all. The Parole Board are best placed to deal with such cases, not the courts."

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: "Cracking down on violence in jails is to be welcomed. Crimes are crimes even when committed behind bars and violence in jails shouldn't be tolerated any less than it is outside prisons.

"But this announcement does nothing to deal with the causes of the surge in violence and deaths in prison on David Cameron's watch. This Tory-led Government's policies of demoralised prison officers and prison overcrowding has done nothing to help the situation."

PA