Assaults on front-line workers in Britain’s prison system have been “de-facto decriminalised”, a new report has claimed.
One in four staff has been physically attacked at work over the last year, with one in ten having been assaulted twice or more in the same period, the research by trade union Community showed.
The report, called Keep Us Safe, said that prisons are facing a worrying “spike in violence”, with assaults on prison staff in England and Wales increasing by 247 per cent since 2010. This equates to 21 prison officers being physically assaulted every single day, the report claimed.
Some 87 per cent of workers reported incidents of assaults to their employer. However 64 per cent of members surveyed said their report about abuse at work did not lead to any consequences for the offender.
More than a quarter (26 per cent) of staff in the justice sector said they were abused on a daily basis and another third (23 per cent) said they were abused weekly.
During the pandemic, 36 per cent of Community members said they had noticed no difference to levels of violence and a further 29 per cent said that it had become worse.
The report details multiple incidents of violence against prison staff. In one instance a male prison officer was struck with a metal flask, breaking his cheekbone, while one female prison officer recalled being kicked in the sternum by a prisoner she was trying to control.
Roy Rickhuss general secretary of Community, said: “Too often during the pandemic, prison workers have been the forgotten emergency service.
“The nature of their work has meant they have been unable to work from home, being in close contact with high numbers of people a day. This has meant a workforce highly exposed to Coronavirus, often having to work long shifts to cover for others who are at home isolating or unwell.
“After an exhausting year and a half, the thought of returning to high levels violence is deeply troubling. Perhaps the most worrying revelation in the report is the scale to which assault is being committed against our brave Justice Sector workers with impunity. We’re calling for urgent reform from government. We’re asking them to keep us safe.”
The report added that the sector is currently under-staffed due to a number of factors, including the high levels of violence and poor benefits.
David Lammy , Labour’s shadow secretary of state for justice, said: “The Conservatives’ disastrous mishandling of the prison service has led to a huge spike in violence against the workers who sacrifice so much to keep the rest of us safe.
“The government must act urgently to improve conditions in our overcrowded, understaffed and dangerous prisons, as well as to ensure those who assault prison workers are punished.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “While the latest figures show that assaults on prison staff are down by 24%, we will never tolerate violence against our hard working officers, which is why we’re doubling the maximum sentence for those who cause them harm.
“This is on top of the millions we have already invested in tools such as PAVA to keep frontline staff safe.”
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