Prison Officers: The Mental Impact of Physical Assaults

Prison officers picketing at under-fire prison HMP Bedford on Friday have told of the violence they have lived through.

A damning report from the prisons watchdog found a “complete breakdown” in order at the facility and the highest rates of assaults on staff in the country.

Richard Gilbert, an officer there for 14 years, described suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression after being repeatedly kicked in the head by inmates.

The beating came in July 2016, he said, when he challenged a prisoner he suspected of possessing an illegal Sim card.

“I got pushed from behind, fell to the floor and a group started kicking me in the head,” he said.

He was left with concussion and remains on restricted duties, but the more persistent impact has been to his mental health.

“I’ve got PTSD and depression at the moment and I’m heavily medicated for that, and they’re looking to get me out of the service because I struggle to work with prisoners now.”

The timing of the attack was a significant one, he said, with that year seeing a freefall in safety due to staffing cuts and a rise in the use of new psychoactive substances.

At 42, the father-of-three faces a medical inefficiency dismissal and a struggle to find a new career.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ben Blunt, a 20-year-old who works in operational support.

During his 13 months in the role, he says he has been attacked up to seven times – a rate of once every seven weeks.

Mr Blunt, who lacks the self-defence training of a fully-qualified officer, told how he was seized by an inmate during one attack and was unable to raise the alarm.

“He grabbed my hands through the bars, pulled me towards him and started spitting and scratching at my hands,” he said.

“I was stuck, I couldn’t pull my alarm because the radio was on my side. It was an awful experience and shouldn’t happen.

“I’ve thought about becoming an officer many times but every time I get assaulted I just get pushed back.”

Both men said their attackers have never been brought to justice for those offences.

Brian Cooper, their branch chairman of the Prison Officers Association (POA), detailed further serious assaults, including a pool cue attack and one colleague who permanently lost the full-use of an eye because of a fractured eye socket.

“We’ve got the highest rate of assault of any prison in the country and the management are just not dealing with it,” he said.

Full Sutton prisoners cleared of officer kidnap – but guilty of threatening to kill him

ferozkhan

Two Muslim killers have been convicted of threatening to kill a prison guard at a high-security jail in East Yorkshire – but cleared of kidnapping him.

A trial at the Old Bailey in London heard Feroz Khan (left), 26, and Fuad Awale (right), 26, tried to take over HMP Full Sutton after an imam holding a prayer service at the jail offered his condolences to the family of murdered soldier Lee Rigby.

The pair targeted prison guard Richard Thompson, believing him to be ex-British military, and demanded the release of hate preacher Abu Qatada.

Khan battered Mr Thompson, fracturing his eye socket, before threatening to kill him.

The jury convicted Khan of making threats to kill and causing grievous bodily harm after 13 hours’ deliberations. He was cleared of false imprisonment and assaulting a second prison guard, Rachel Oxtoby.

Awale was convicted of making threats to kill but cleared of false imprisonment.

A third man, convicted killer David Watson, 27, was also cleared of false imprisonment.

The two men will be sentenced on April 7th.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Milsom, lead for the North East Counter Terrorism Unit, said: “The incident at HMP Full Sutton was terrifying for all involved and in particular the prison officer who found himself at the centre of this attack.

“This attack was unprovoked and pre-planned. Thankfully, Khan and Awale were prevented from carrying out their threats in full and prison staff escaped with serious, but not life threatening, injuries.

“Khan and Awale are dangerous, violent individuals who threatened the lives of innocent people. They have shown they deserve no place in our society and we are grateful that they will remain behind bars for the foreseeable future.”

The Old Bailey heard relations between staff and Muslim inmates at Full Sutton had become tense following Drummer Rigby’s death last May 22.

Four days later, Mr Thompson was ambushed as he walked into a cleaning office on the prison’s Echo Wing and held hostage for nearly five hours.

As Mr Thompson was pinned to his chair, Awale pointed a sharp implement at his throat and said: ‘Stop struggling, I’ve killed two people – I’ll kill you’.

Khan told prison guards outside the office that only a few were allowed to remain for negotiations – which included the release of Qatada, then awaiting deportation to Jordan to face terror charges.

After the siege was broken up by riot officers, Khan made a full confession, stating the attack had been his idea.

Mr Thompson was treated for his injuries at York Hospital’s A&E while another guard suffered bruising and scratches to her arm during the struggle.

Khan, Awale and Watson were all serving life sentences for murder at the time.

On February 26, 2007, Khan shot his friend Skander Rehman in the back of the head at point blank range after luring him to a park in Bradford – wrongly believing he was having an affair with his wife.

He began practising Islam at HMP Wakefield where he claims staff treated him differently once he grew a beard and started praying.

Like Khan, Somali-born Awale became a devout Muslim once he had been convicted of the double murder of two teenagers, shot in a Milton Keynes drug war in January last year.

Watson, a white Muslim convert, stabbed a security guard to death at a HMV store in Norwich’s Chapelfield shopping centre after being caught with a stolen CD on December 18, 2006. He converted to Islam following his conviction in August 2007.

Police shocked by scale of prison abuse claims

Medomsley detention centre

Detectives investigating sexual abuse at a detention centre have admitted they were shocked by the scale of the allegations after more than 500 potential victims were identified.

It was now thought an organised paedophile ring was operating in the 1970s and 1980s at Medomsley Detention Centre near Consett, County Durham.

Police announced in August they were starting a fresh investigation into abuse at the centre for young offenders who were mostly convicted of minor crimes.

In 2003 a previous police investigation led to the conviction of Neville Husband, a prison officer at the centre.

Husband was initially sent to jail for eight years after being found guilty of abusing five youngsters.

The publicity surrounding the trial then led to others coming forward and Husband was subsequently jailed for a further two years for these attacks.

After being released from prison he died from natural causes in 2010.

Now Detective Superintendent Paul Goundry, leading a 70-strong team, has told the Guardian: “We always knew this would be a major inquiry but the scale of it, and the sheer number of victims who have come forward, has been a shock.”

Husband, who went on to become a church minister, was in charge of the kitchens at Medomsley and would single out youths for sexual abuse, particularly those who had been in care and did not have strong family ties.

His former colleague Leslie Johnson, a storeman, was jailed for six years in 2005 for sexual offences. He has also since died.

Police originally believed the pair were operating alone, but that view has changed after speaking to many victims.

Mr Goundry told the Guardian: “From the statements, there is growing evidence to suggest there was an organised paedophile ring operating in Medomsley.”

He said the experience of many of the victims, sent for detention for relatively petty crimes, had ruined the rest of their lives.

The inquiry team was also investigating physical abuse of young detainees.

Jail Sex Abuse Claims Now Over 140

Paedophile Prison Officer Neville Husband
Paedophile Prison Officer Neville Husband

A police investigation into a young offenders’ centre in County Durham has now heard claims from more than 140 people that they were abused between the late 1960s and the mid-1980s.

Detectives announced in August they were starting a new investigation into allegations young men sent to Medomsley Detention Centre, near Consett, were abused by staff, which led to 83 people coming forward.

That number has now increased to 143 and police chiefs said detectives were left shaken by some of the accounts they heard.

Detective Superintendent Paul Goundry, of Durham Constabulary, said: “We said from the outset this was going to be a long and complex investigation which we fully expect will last at least another 12 months.

“So far we have been contacted by more than 140 former inmates of Medomsley, who have reported they were victims of either sexual or physical abuse at the centre between the late 1960s and the mid-1980s.

“The accounts we have heard have been horrific and have shaken some very experienced detectives who are working on this.

“It is obviously distressing to hear from so many victims, but at the same time I am relieved they have shown the confidence in us to get in touch and allow us to help them.

“Our efforts are directed not just at establishing what happened in Medomsley over that period but ensuring the victims are left in a better place and get the support and advice they need.”

In 2003, a previous police investigation called Operation Halter led to the conviction of Neville Husband, a prison officer at the centre.

Husband was initially jailed for eight years after being found guilty of abusing five youngsters.

The publicity surrounding the trial then led to others coming forward and Husband was subsequently jailed for a further two years for these attacks.

After being released from prison he died from natural causes in 2010.

Medomsley detention centre

HMP and YOI Ashfield – high levels of violence and use of force by staff

nickhardwick

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons,Nick Hardwick, above, in a report on Ashield Young Offender Institution published today says:

In January 2013, the Justice Secretary announced plans to close HMYOI Ashfield and re-role it as an adult prison. The inspectorate had plans to conduct an unannounced inspection of the establishment in February 2013. We decided to proceed with the inspection to ensure that the young people who continued to be held there were held safely and decently during the transition, and that plans in place to ensure their move to another establishment or release were well managed.
We focused the inspection on areas of greatest concern and produced this truncated report more quickly than usual so it could be of use before the establishment closed. Because we did not look at every area of the establishment, we have not graded it against each healthy prison test, as is our normal practice. As usual, we gave immediate, detailed feedback to the establishment and Youth Justice Board (YJB) at the end of the inspection.
At the time of the inspection, the establishment was just one-third full and held 123 young people, most of whom were aged 16 or 17. This compared with a population of 332 at the time of our last inspection, and an average of 237 in 2012. Ashfield had an operational capacity of 360.
Our concerns about safety appeared to have been justified. Despite the reduction in numbers held, there had been a sharp increase in self-harm incidents since the closure announcement. The number of formal disciplinary proceedings or adjudications was high, and fights and assaults accounted for two-thirds of the charges laid. The highest number of adjudications per 100 of the population was in January 2013. Levels of violence were high. There were 351 fights and 377 assaults in 2012 and staff told us there had been an increase in the overall number of violent incidents since the closure announcement. In the 12 months to January 2013, there had been 43 serious fights, of which 37 had resulted in serious injury and six in minor injury. Five staff had been assaulted in the same period. Use of force by staff was also high in 2012 and two boys had suffered broken bones following staff use of force.
As at other young offender institutions (YOIs), young people were routinely strip-searched when they entered or left reception. Of 3,773 such searches over the last 12 months, just one had resulted in a find.
Despite the levels of violence, young people did not tell us they did not feel safe. We were also pleased that the segregation unit had been closed since our last inspection, and there were some good systems to address the particularly poor behaviour of some young people.
The environment was reasonable, although needing some attention. Young people could have telephones in their cells, which was a good initiative. Relationships between staff and the young people were good. We were impressed by the way in which staff put their own anxieties about the change aside and did not let this affect their dealings with the young people. Health care was good.
Young people had good access to education and training. However, with the rundown of the establishment it was increasingly difficult to motivate the young people and there was a concern that provision for those transferring elsewhere would not be effectively linked to the work they had done at Ashfield.
During the course of the inspection, we were particularly concerned about resettlement and transition planning. There was a lack of effective joint strategic planning between the YJB and Ashfield. Poor communication between the interested parties was causing widespread confusion. Young people were becoming increasingly agitated because they did not understand what was happening. Some services would be discontinued before all young people had left Ashfield. Overall, we were not confident that the best interests of the young person were always considered.
We have reported our concern about high levels of violence at a number of recent inspections of YOIs holding children and young people. At Ashfield too, young people’s safety was compromised because they were exposed to unacceptable levels of violence – and there is some evidence the situation has deteriorated since the closure decision was announced. Planning for the closure itself was not effectively coordinated between the YJB and Ashfield, and the needs of individual young people were not carefully considered. The anxiety and uncertainty this created may well have contributed to the tension at the establishment. It certainly means that young people are not being adequately prepared for transfer or release. The establishment and the YJB will need to work effectively together, not just to improve the situation but also to ensure it does not deteriorate further.

Ashfield – high levels of violence and use of force by staff

Ashfield Children

Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, in a report to be published at midnight, says that in his final inspection of HMYOI Ashfield before it is re-roled from a juvenile institution to a category C adult male prison for sex offenders, he found there were high levels of violence, self-harm, along with high levels of force by staff in which two prisoners suffered broken bones.

Check back after midnight for full details of this shocking report.