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.

Prison Officers’ Walk-Out: Concerns Justified Government Tells Union

Concerns over prison violence that sparked a mass walk-out by officers have been recognised by the Government as “justified”, their union said.

Members of the POA, the trade union for prison staff, were told to return to work by 1pm following “meaningful engagement” with prisons minister Rory Stewart.

Mr Stewart “recognised that our concerns are justified and need addressing” following Friday’s protest, General secretary Steve Gillan said.

He said he was “confident a deal is a deal” after the prison service “backed down” over seeking an injunction against the demonstrators.

They have been demonstrating outside prisons in England and Wales from 7am over “unprecedented” levels of violence and safety concerns.

But Justice Secretary David Gauke branded Friday’s action “wrong” and “irresponsible”, adding that it “does nothing” to help reduce levels of violence.

He told reporters: “I agree with those who say that the level of violence is unacceptably high and we are determined to bring it down.

“But I think action of this sort does nothing to help that process, and locking prisoners up for 24 hours a day, which may be the consequence of what the POA are doing, only increases the risk of violence.

“It doesn’t help us address it.”

The action had knock-on effects on court cases, with some defendants in custody unable to be transported to hearings.

The union will hold talks with the prison service on Monday, Mr Gillan said.

He told the Press Association the Justice Secretary risked “inflaming” the situation after an agreement had been reached.

“The protest can’t have made things worse because his minister has recognised that our concerns are justified and need addressing. That’s why we called the protests off,” he said.

“And so while I understand the secretary of state will always say ‘no-one should ever protest, we should rely on negotiation and consultation’, unfortunately when nobody’s listening to you sometimes you’ve got to demonstrate that you don’t think it’s right or proper that 25 officers every day are being assaulted when they go to work.”

He added: “It couldn’t get any worse than it already was and what we now need is positive action to improve the safety of prisons.”

Thousands of prison staff took part in the demonstrations, the POA said, which Mr Stewart called “unlawful” earlier on Friday.

Mr Stewart said after the protests ended: “I am pleased that all parties have been able to bring a swift resolution to this action which, as I have made clear, was irresponsible and placed fellow staff and prisons at risk.

“The priority now must be to continue our constructive dialogue with the safety of our hard-working prison officers at its absolute heart. Ultimately our aims are the same – to see safe, secure and decent establishments that provide a positive environment for staff and prisoners.

“I have demonstrated my absolute commitment to bringing about that improvement but it will only happen if all sides work together.”

The walk-out was triggered by a damning report which warned of a “dangerous lack of control” at HMP Bedford, the union said.

Around 50 officers were outside the prison on Friday, with members recalling how one colleague’s arm was broken with a pool cue while another had his head stamped on.

Richard Gilbert, who has been an officer for 14 years at the facility, said he was suffering with PTSD and depression after a group of inmates repeatedly kicked him in the head.

On Thursday, Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke raised the alarm over the potential for a “complete breakdown” in order and discipline at HMP Bedford.

It was the fourth urgent notification the Government has issued since the scheme was introduced less than a year ago.

Standards across the prison estate have come under intense scrutiny in recent years amid a slew of highly critical reports and a deterioration in safety measures.

In his annual report for 2017/18, Mr Clarke warned staff and inmates have become “inured” to conditions unacceptable in 21st-century Britain.

He highlighted how thousands of inmates are living in squalid and overcrowded cells, locked up for nearly 24 hours a day.

Official figures published in July revealed that assault and self-harm incidents were continuing to rise, both reaching new record highs.

Overcrowding remains a key issue, with the prison population forecast by the MoJ to “steadily” rise by more than 3,000 over the next five years, reaching roughly 86,400 places in March 2023.

The MoJ said it doubled the prison sentence for anyone who assaults prison officers on Thursday.

Prison Officers Protests Over Violence and Safety Concerns – ‘Justified’ Says Minister

Updated: 1630 Click Here

Concerns over prison violence that sparked a mass walk-out by officers have been recognised by the Government as “justified”, their union said.

Members of the POA, the trade union for prison staff, were told to return to work by 1pm following “meaningful engagement” with prisons minister Rory Stewart.

Mr Stewart “recognised that our concerns are justified and need addressing” following Friday’s protest, General secretary Steve Gillan said.

He said he was “confident a deal is a deal” after the prison service “backed down” over seeking an injunction against the demonstrators.

They have been demonstrating outside prisons in England and Wales from 7am over “unprecedented” levels of violence and safety concerns.

But Justice Secretary David Gauke branded Friday’s action “wrong” and “irresponsible”, adding that it “does nothing” to help reduce levels of violence.

He told reporters: “I agree with those who say that the level of violence is unacceptably high and we are determined to bring it down.

“But I think action of this sort does nothing to help that process, and locking prisoners up for 24 hours a day, which may be the consequence of what the POA are doing, only increases the risk of violence.

“It doesn’t help us address it.”

The action had knock-on effects on court cases, with some defendants in custody unable to be transported to hearings.

The union will hold talks with the prison service on Monday, Mr Gillan said.

He told the Press Association the Justice Secretary risked “inflaming” the situation after an agreement had been reached.

“The protest can’t have made things worse because his minister has recognised that our concerns are justified and need addressing. That’s why we called the protests off,” he said.

“And so while I understand the secretary of state will always say ‘no-one should ever protest, we should rely on negotiation and consultation’, unfortunately when nobody’s listening to you sometimes you’ve got to demonstrate that you don’t think it’s right or proper that 25 officers every day are being assaulted when they go to work.”

He added: “It couldn’t get any worse than it already was and what we now need is positive action to improve the safety of prisons.”

Thousands of prison staff took part in the demonstrations, the POA said, which Mr Stewart called “unlawful” earlier on Friday.

Mr Stewart said after the protests ended: “I am pleased that all parties have been able to bring a swift resolution to this action which, as I have made clear, was irresponsible and placed fellow staff and prisons at risk.

“The priority now must be to continue our constructive dialogue with the safety of our hard-working prison officers at its absolute heart. Ultimately our aims are the same – to see safe, secure and decent establishments that provide a positive environment for staff and prisoners.

“I have demonstrated my absolute commitment to bringing about that improvement but it will only happen if all sides work together.”

The walk-out was triggered by a damning report which warned of a “dangerous lack of control” at HMP Bedford, the union said.

Around 50 officers were outside the prison on Friday, with members recalling how one colleague’s arm was broken with a pool cue while another had his head stamped on.

Richard Gilbert, who has been an officer for 14 years at the facility, said he was suffering with PTSD and depression after a group of inmates repeatedly kicked him in the head.

On Thursday, Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke raised the alarm over the potential for a “complete breakdown” in order and discipline at HMP Bedford.

It was the fourth urgent notification the Government has issued since the scheme was introduced less than a year ago.

Standards across the prison estate have come under intense scrutiny in recent years amid a slew of highly critical reports and a deterioration in safety measures.

In his annual report for 2017/18, Mr Clarke warned staff and inmates have become “inured” to conditions unacceptable in 21st-century Britain.

He highlighted how thousands of inmates are living in squalid and overcrowded cells, locked up for nearly 24 hours a day.

Official figures published in July revealed that assault and self-harm incidents were continuing to rise, both reaching new record highs.

Overcrowding remains a key issue, with the prison population forecast by the MoJ to “steadily” rise by more than 3,000 over the next five years, reaching roughly 86,400 places in March 2023.

The MoJ said it doubled the prison sentence for anyone who assaults prison officers on Thursday.

POA Former General Secretary Predicts ‘Severe Disruption’ Ahead for Prisons

briancatonThe former General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA) has predicted that prison officers are on course for more severe prison protests.

Brian Caton, who retired as General Secretary in 2012, told Converse that he believes the membership of his former union will reject the improved offer made by the Ministry of Justice last week

Low pay and allowing prison officers to retire at 65, down from the previous age of 68, is at the centre of a continuing dissatisfaction.

Mr Caton told Converse: “In my opinion the membership will reject this offer, the retirement age should be 60 – but the problem is this parliament is the worse since the second world war.”

“I have a feeling that most frontline staff and many inmates have had enough of the failures of the prison system and it’s dangers, so we are probably heading towards severe disruption.”

This comes after the Converse exclusive that suggested there is a real fear among prison officers leaders that their membership are set to reject the pay and conditions offer made to them this week by the Ministry of Justice, sources have told Converse.

The wide-ranging offer, accepted by the Prison Officers’ Association, gives prison officers a reduction in pension age to 65, the only public body to secure such a deal. The ability to retire at 65, at nil cost to the prison officer concerned, amounts to an investment of £12 million a year.

The offer also includes a new industrial relations procedural agreement, which means independent binding arbitration, and which should see a reduction, if not an end, to walk-out protests that we have seen recently.

In addition prison officers will be paid a £1000 ‘retention bonus’ in March 2017 and March 2018.

However one source close to the POA leadership, told Converse: “There is a very real fear that members will reject the offer because the pay rise is rubbish, due to the Government pay cap, this has been an ongoing negotiation for 18 months and is nothing to do with the recent protest action.”

The fear that prison officers will reject the offer made by Secretary of State for Justice, Liz Truss, is certain to shake the Ministry of Justice, who are desperate to see stability return to a prison system that is said by a variety of experts to be ‘in meltdown’.

Mark Leech, editor of Converse said: “I hope prison officers do accept the agreement, its a genuine attempt by the Secretary of State to listen and respond to their very real concerns – but the elephant in the room is prison officer pay and this offer doesn’t, and in fact couldn’t, address that at all.

“Government-wide policy on capping public sector pay means that solving the prison officers’ long-standing complaint about low pay is not something in the gift of Liz Truss.”

And that is the nub of the problem, and one that is causing prison officer’s leaders to fear rejection of what is now on the table – and which they accepted and recommended to their members.

Mr Leech said: “The reality is that prison officers do have a legitimate complaint about their pay, I wouldn’t do their job for £100,000 a year, so twenty-odd grand doesn’t even come close to what they deserve for what they do.

“But lifting the Government pay cap on public sector pay for prison officers, which is what would need to happen to improve their pay rates, would lead to a flood of protests from other public sector bodies, rightly perhaps demanding the same relaxation of the rules – and I can’t see the Government allowing that.

“The problem for prison officers is that they know if they accept this offer then any discussions about pay are then put on the back burner for a couple of years – their dilemma therefore is do they stand and fight their ‘pay corner’ now, and risk what is currently on offer, or do they accept that in reality the current offer is about the best offer they are going to get?”

“Only time will tell.”

The result of the prison officers ballot is due in the next week.

‘Real Fear’ Prison Officers Are About To Reject The MOJ Pay & Conditions Offer

There is a real fear among prison officers leaders that their membership are set to reject the pay and conditions offer made to them this week by the Ministry of Justice, sources have told Converse.

The wide-ranging offer, accepted by the Prison Officers’ Association, gives prison officers a reduction in pension age to 65, the only public body to secure such a deal. The ability to retire at 65, at nil cost to the prison officer concerned, amounts to an investment of £12 million a year.

The offer also includes a new industrial relations procedural agreement, which means independent binding arbitration, and which should see a reduction, if not an end, to walk-out protests that we have seen recently.

In addition prison officers will be paid a £1000 ‘retention bonus’ in March 2017 and March 2018.

However one source close to the POA leadership, told Converse: “There is a very real fear that members will reject the offer because the pay rise is rubbish, due to the Government pay cap, this has been an ongoing negotiation for 18 months and is nothing to do with the recent protest action.”

The fear that prison officers will reject the offer made by Secretary of State for Justice, Liz Truss, is certain to shake the Ministry of Justice, who are desperate to see stability return to a prison system that is said by a variety of experts to be ‘in meltdown’.

Mark Leech, editor of Converse said: “I hope prison officers do accept the agreement, its a genuine attempt by the Secretary of State to listen and respond to their very real concerns – but the elephant in the room is prison officer pay and this offer doesn’t, and in fact couldn’t, address that at all.

“Government-wide policy on capping public sector pay means that solving the prison officers’ long-standing complaint about low pay is not something in the gift of Liz Truss.”

And that is the nub of the problem, and one that is causing prison officer’s leaders to fear rejection of what is now on the table – and which they accepted and recommended to their members.

Mr Leech said: “The reality is that prison officers do have a legitimate complaint about their pay, I wouldn’t do their job for £100,000 a year, so twenty-odd grand doesn’t even come close to what they deserve for what they do.

“But lifting the Government pay cap on public sector pay for prison officers, which is what would need to happen to improve their pay rates, would lead to a flood of protests from other public sector bodies, rightly perhaps demanding the same relaxation of the rules – and I can’t see the Government allowing that.

“The problem for prison officers is that they know if they accept this offer then any discussions about pay are then put on the back burner for a couple of years – their dilemma therefore is do they stand and fight their ‘pay corner’ now, and risk what is currently on offer, or do they accept that in reality the current offer is about the best offer they are going to get?”

“Only time will tell.”

The result of the prison officers ballot is due in the next week.

Overtime payments to prison officers in Northern Ireland have topped £9.4 million during the last three financial years.

Finlay Spratt head of the Prison Officer's Association
Finlay Spratt head of the Prison Officer’s Association

Overtime payments to prison officers in Northern Ireland have topped £9.4 million during the last three financial years.

New figures show huge sums are being spent every month to bolster staffing levels at the region’s four main jails.

Critics claim the money would be better spent recruiting additional staff, but the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) has argued it is necessary to meet the demands of a 24/7 operation.

The highest overtime payments were made by bosses at HMP Maghaberry, which houses some of the most dangerous criminals and has segregated wings for paramilitary inmates.

Between April 2012 and March 2015, some £6.15 million was spent on overtime at the high-security jail in Co Antrim which employs 623 prison officers.

During the same period, a further £1.7 million was paid out in overtime at Magilligan Prison in Co Londonderry, which has 276 prison officers.

At Hydebank Wood in South Belfast, where young offenders and female prisoners are locked up and 175 prison officers work, overtime payments totalled more than £1.5 million.

Finlay Spratt, chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association, which represents rank-and-file officers, said: “They should be employing the right number of staff rather than relying on overtime because if you rely on overtime, then you get burn-out.

“But this is the way the service is being run.”

Mr Finlay said the prison service was operating with at least 100 officers short and turnover among new recruits was high.

Hundreds of experienced officers have also left through a voluntary redundancy scheme in recent years.

Last year inspectors branded Maghaberry the most dangerous prison in the UK, describing conditions as “Dickensian” in a damning report.

A follow-up inspection found the unsafe and unstable regime had stabilised, but still fell a long way short of required safety standards.

The figures were provided following a Freedom of Information request from the Press Association.

DUP MLA Edwin Poots, who sits on Stormont’s justice scrutiny committee, said the level of overtime spend was unsurprising.

He said: “Unfortunately I am not at all surprised by the figures.

“All the indications are that the service has been too reliant on overtime, largely down to the fact that they did not recruit – despite requests from two prison governors at Maghaberry.

“It seems that the prison service headquarters have refused or failed to go and recruit staff to do the job.”

A Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) spokesman said: “There are times when overtime is required to meet the operational need of prisons and it is an aspect of running a 24/7 service. Overtime provides a degree of flexibility that can be used to ensure that effective regime is provided for prisoners and to cover unpredictable pressures.

“NIPS has regularly been recruiting since 2012 with job opportunities in the service advertised in 2012, 2013 and 2015. Since March 2015, NIPS has run external recruitment campaigns for Prisoner Custody Officers (PCO), Night Custody Officers (NCO) and Custody Prison Officers (CPO). Recruitment interviews are ongoing for all these opportunities with new recruits to begin training in early April 2016.”

Meanwhile, figures also show that thousands of days have been lost because officers have taken time off due to stress, anxiety and, or depression.

In Maghaberry last year, 7,919 days were taken off – a significant jump on the 4,321 days lost during 2013/14.

Some 64 prison officers are currently sick leave at Maghaberry, according to the statistics.

Mr Finlay said morale was low.

He added: “The mood is not good, especially when you consider one of our colleagues was blown up just the other week. That trades a lot of fear and there is no point saying that we are big, brave and macho because you can’t be brave when someone places a bomb under your car.

“Also, in Magilligan, for example, there used to be four prison officers for 50 prisoners. That has been cut to two members of staff. And, to be honest those fellas and girls are scared. These people have not been put in prison because they missed Sunday school -they are criminals.

“So, there is a big fear factor and I think a lot of the sickness is stress induced by fear because numbers have been cut.”

Fury as prison officers agree no strike pact

Caution – update. The accuracy of this news item, versions of which have appeared in both The Scotsman and The Scottish Times, have been disputed by the SPOA in a letter seen by Converse which you can view here http://www.docdroid.net/skz8/prison-officers-no-strike-story-simply-wrong.docx.html

Ministers were accused of “bribing” Scottish prison officers to give up their right to strike as unions reacted with fury to news of a no-strike deal.

Grahame Smith, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, described the deal as “totally unacceptable”, while Labour said it was “astonishing” that the Scottish government had asked prison officers to give up a fundamental democratic right.

The deal between the Prison Officers Association (POA) and the state-run Scottish Prisons Service (SPS) means that officers will each be given a £2,000 bonus payment but will have to return the money if they strike within the next two years.

Andy Hogg, assistant general secretary of the POA, admitted that the union had effectively agreed not to “induce action” for the period of time covered by the deal.

Mr Smith said: “The Scottish government has a number of questions to answer about how it can stand with me and condemn the Tories for threatening to introduce strike ballot thresholds while at the same time encouraging a no-strike agreement in the Scottish Prisons Service.”

Mr Smith also made a thinly-veiled threat to the POA, warning that it had to consider the effects of the deal on other unions. “The POA in Scotland also has to recognise that, as an STUC member union, it has a responsibility to act in the collective interest of unions and not to do deals that disadvantage sister unions,” he said.

Scotland’s 3,500 prison officers are the only ones in the UK who retain the right to strike. While the deal struck with the SPS does not negate that legally, it has in practical terms brought them into line with officers in the rest of the UK.

Neil Findlay, Labour’s spokesman on fair work, said that the deal would hit the whole trade union movement. “This deal is a complete disservice to the trade union movement and lays bare an unhealthy relationship between SNP ministers and the POA Scotland leadership,” he said.

He added: “The right for workers to withdraw their labour is a fundamental right recognised by the United Nations. So for the SNP government to demand the removal of this right in return for financial reward is frankly astonishing.”

He asked: “How does this sit with the SNP’s claim to be the party that promotes fair work and champions social justice?”

The Scottish government said that the issue of pay for prison officers was an operational matter for the SPS. A spokesman said: “A deal was negotiated and reached between the Scottish Prisons Service and their own prison officers. Any financial costs incurred will therefore be met from within SPS’s own existing budgets, not from the Scottish government.”

A spokeswoman for the SPS described the deal as positive. “Both partners welcome the longer-term stability this agreement will provide,” she said.

Mark Leech editor of The Prisons Handbook and a long time critic of prison strikes welcomed the deal.

Mr Leech said: “In 2015 its ridiculous that essential public services like the Prison Service can still put the public at risk by strike action.

“This is a deal for common sense and I welcome it and I hope to see the English Prison Service, where strikes are illegal but still occur following suit.”

Prison Officer Assaults up by 45%

officerfullsutton

The number of serious assaults on prison officers by offenders has risen significantly under the coalition prompting one prisons expert to predict our prisons are on the verge of serious unrest.

A total of 543 assaults by prisoners on officers in jails were referred to the police in 2012, a 45% rise from the 374 assaults referred to police in 2010 when the coalition came to power, official figures showed.

The figure equated to nearly three assaults every two days in 2012.

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said that dedicated and hard-working prison officers should not have to face violence at work and blamed the Government for allowing jails to become overcrowded.

Mr Khan, who unveiled the figures using a written parliamentary question, said: “How can ministers expect to rehabilitate criminals if prisons are dens of violence?

“On their watch, this Government have presided over prisons becoming more and more overcrowded and violent.

“We’ve seen call outs by the prison riot squad up sharply, and last year saw the highest number of deaths in custody for over a decade.

“And all the time prisoners are spending too much time idling away in their cells or on landings instead of undertaking meaningful activity like work, education or training.

“It’s not an overstatement to say that prisons are in crisis and the Government are either oblivious or simply don’t care.”

Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) is reviewing policy for managing violence in prisons.

Replying to Mr Khan’s question, he said: “NOMS takes the issue of assaults on prison staff very seriously. It currently has systems in place to deal with perpetrators quickly and robustly, with serious incidents referred to the police for prosecution.

“It is working with the police and Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that prisoners who assault staff are charged and punished appropriately.

“NOMS is committed to exploring options to continue to improve how violence is tackled in prisons to keep both staff and prisoners safe. It is currently reviewing the policy and practice of the management of violence.”

Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisons in England and Wales said the rise in assaults was largely due to savage budget cuts.

Mr Leech said: “Since 2010 over half a billion pounds has been slashed from prison budgets, resulting in fewer staff being employed and as a result already attenuated regimes being reduced even further.

“You cannot expect prison Governors to do everything with next to nothing, our prisons cannot be run on a shoe-string and while Cameron, Clegg and Osbourne are sitting pretty in their ivory towers our prisons are in increasing danger of exploding – I’d like to see Cameron, Clegg and Osbourne manning the landings at Full Sutton for a day; they’d soon change their tune.”

G4S PRISON STAFF ATTACKED

A difficult, violent and unpredictable prisoner smashed a television set in his cell and attacked four prison officers with shards of the broken glass, a union has said.

The inmate burst through his cell door on the healthcare wing of the G4S-run BirminghamPrison yesterday, attacking three staff who were serving his lunch and those that came to their aid, the Prison Officers Association (POA) said.

All four staff were taken to hospital for treatment, with two suffering serious cuts and one remaining in hospital for surgery on his arm, the POA’s Brian Clarke told BBC News.

“A very difficult, violent, and unpredictable prisoner was being served his midday meal at his door,” Mr Clarke said.

“He burst through that door and assaulted three members of staff with shards of broken glass.

“He also assaulted a fourth member of staff who came to their assistance and fought violently with the other staff who came along afterwards.”

Mr Clarke added: “A television set had been smashed in his cell in a moment of random violence sometime earlier in the day.

“We believe it had been removed but we suspect that the prisoner may have hidden shards of glass in his cell or on his person.”

But he also told BBC News the category B Victorian prison – which can hold 1,450 inmates and was taken over by G4S, the firm at the centre of the Olympics security shambles, last year – was “staffed appropriately for a very, very difficult, very, very violent, and unpredictable prisoner”.

“This was an unprovoked, unpredicted offence,” he added.

News of the attack by the prisoner, who was on remand, emerged as the firm was told it will lose its contract to run the Wolds prison in East Yorkshire from next year and was unsuccessful in its bid to run other jails.

A G4S spokesman said: “G4S has confirmed that four members of staff were injured during an incident at the prison yesterday morning.

“The staff, all members of the prison’s healthcare unit, were wounded in an altercation with a prisoner on remand, with two staff receiving serious lacerations.

“All staff were transferred to local hospitals for treatment. The prisoner has been contained.”

He went on: “The safety and welfare of our staff and those in our care is our utmost priority, and we have launched an immediate investigation into the circumstances surrounding this attack.

“Our thoughts are with our staff at this time.”

West Midlands Police said it could not confirm reports that broken glass was used to assault the prison officers, two of whom remain in hospital in a stable condition.

Detective Inspector Justin Spanner, from Force CID, said: “Police were called by the ambulance service at 12.48pm yesterday to a report of four prison officers being assaulted at HMP Birmingham.

“Initial inquiries suggest that the four were injured by an improvised weapon.

“Detectives have launched an investigation into the assault and we are working closely with the prison.”

Police said a prisoner at the jail in the Winson Green area has been transferred to a mental health facility while inquiries continue.

CHIEF INSPECTOR OF PRISONS SPEECH TO THE POA CONFERENCE 2012

SPEECH OF NICK HARDWICK

HM CHIEF INSPECTOR OF PRISONS

TO THE PRISON OFFICERS ASSOCIATION NATIONAL CONFERENCE 2012

15 May 2012

 


 

Good afternoon.

First of all, thank you for inviting me to your conference.  It’s a great pleasure to be here.

I want to talk to you about three things today.

First of all, I will explain our inspection process – what our remit is and how we come to our judgements. I am conscious that when I talk to your members as I go round a prison that they only see a part of the process and we may not have explained how we will use what they or a prisoner says to us.

On of the things I find your colleagues are keenest to talk to me about is prisoners with mental health problems and the very difficult – and unappreciated job – the job they have to do to care for them. So I also wanted to say a little about how we think the mental health issues we identify on our inspections should be addressed.

And finally, that will lead me on to say something about the role of a prison officer.   I think it is worth returning to the report of the Justice Committee on that topic a couple of years ago and considering how some of the recommendations they made could be progressed.

I am very happy to take questions when I have finished my remarks – either on what I have said today or on any other issue relating to our inspections.

So first, the inspection process.

I will start by saying why I think independent inspection is important. Britain has a long tradition of independent prison inspection going back a couple of hundred years. The inspectorate has been established in its current form for about thirty years.

Independent inspection is particularly important in a custodial setting.  It provides a safeguard for those who are held and work in the establishment – out of sight, behind high walls. It should help the public understand what is being done in their name and it should help those who work in the prison, whose view is also constrained by those walls, to compare their work with what is happening in similar establishments elsewhere.

I think if you work in a prison you can forget how little most people know about what goes on behind the walls. I remember once doing a local radio interview after we had published a report on an old city centre prison and the journalist said to me: people walk past the prison every day but they have no idea what happens behind those walls. Tell us what it is like’.

So we try to do that – just tell people what it is like.

It is not just the public who need to be told what is happening behind prison walls.

I think inspection also helps guard against the ‘virtual’ prison – the one the governor thinks he or she is running but which as both officers and prisoners tell us, is sometimes very different from what is really happening down on the wings.

SLIDE 1

My responsibilities are set out in the Prison Act of 1952.

That requires me to inspect or arrange for the inspection of prisons in England and Wales and report to the Secretary of State on the treatment of prisoners and conditions in prisons.

What that means in effect is that I report on outcomes for prisoners not the management of prisons.

 

SLIDE 2

That remit has since been extended to immigration detention facilities and escorts, police cells and court custody. I also inspect military custody by invitation. We will shortly be joining Ofsted in their inspections of Secure Training Centres.

The inspectorate is independent. We are not part of the management of the prison service. I decide where we will inspect and when and I approve our inspection findings and sign off all our reports. Ministers and prison management cannot tell me where to go or what to say – and to be fair, they do not try to do so.

SLIDE 3

We assess prisons against four internally recognised criteria of a healthy prison:

Safety                              Prisoners, particularly the most vulnerable, are held safely

Respect                         Prisoners are treated with respect for their human dignity

Purposeful activity      Prisoners are able, and expected, to engage in activity that is likely to benefit them

Resettlement                Prisoners are prepared for their release back into the community and effectively helped to reduce the likelihood of reoffending

So in plain English what I look for is that prisoners are kept safe – from themselves and others and as secure as necessary.

That prison officers and staff set a good example and the environment encourages self-respect and respect for others.

That prisoners are busy – so they acquire the skills, habits, training and experience they need to get and hold down a job when they are released and that they leave prison having had the help and interventions they need to make them less likely to offend than when they went in.

I don’t for a minute think that it is easy to do but I think that is what we should aim for.

These healthy prison tests are underpinned by our expectations or inspection criteria that describe the outcomes we expect to see and the evidence we would usually use to make a judgement.  Our expectations are based on international standards and do not necessarily match prison service standards.

It’s important to be clear about this point – we are not auditors checking whether the procedures the prison service has agreed are being applied – we are inspecting against independent criteria based on international standards.

I recognise that some are outside the control of an individual establishment.

But if, for instance, a prison is overcrowded so that your members cannot do the work they know is required– we will say so, even if numbers are within limits the prison service says are OK.

SLIDE 4

We use five sources of evidence to come to our conclusions and it is the combination of these sources of evidence that enables us to come to our conclusions rather than just one of them on their own.

Mostly we observe. About half our inspectors are former prison governors who have worked their way up from the wings. The rest have extensive custodial experience. We will be in the prison for a week or so and mostly we observe.

At the start of an inspection we survey a randomly selected sample of prisoners. We have been doing that for many years now so we can compare survey results between similar establishments and the same establishment over a number of years.

Of course you cannot take survey results at face value but if, for instance, prisoners tell us they now feel safer when they first arrive than they did when we last inspected, we normally find other evidence that supports this perception and suggests why it might be so. Or if many more prisoners than in comparable prisons tell us they don’t know who to ask for help with accommodation on release – we usually find that does reflect a real problem.

We talk to prisoners individually and in groups, staff and other service providers and visitor in the prison.

And we look at records, policy and data.

We pull all of that together to come to a judgement, talking through what we find with the prison’s managers on a daily basis, and arguing it out amongst the inspection team.

SLIDE 5

We inspect every prison regularly and most inspections are unannounced.  Last year we carried out 63 prison inspections and more than half of those were unannounced.

We make recommendations at the end of each inspection and when we checked up on them last year, 84% has been accepted and two thirds achieved.

SLIDE 6

That is reflected in our overall findings from our inspections up until last year. The trend was very clear – despite the pressure your members are under, they delivered significant improvement in outcomes in every area. There are not many public services that can say that.

We are now putting together our report for last year – and will see whether that improvement could be maintained as the money is stretched ever more thinly.

I or my deputy join most inspections on the final day and have a look round ourselves and I am really grateful for the unfailingly patient way your colleagues in the middle of a busy day take time to explain to me what they are doing.

And I do need you and your colleagues to help me understand what the problems are. I remember going to Brixton not long after I had started in my role.   I will remind you what I said in the report:

 

The most disturbing sight in the prison was the inpatient mental health care. Some young men, who had been sectioned, were waiting for up to six months for a place in a secure mental health hospital. Some cells were in a very poor state of repair with ripped linoleum floors, graffiti on the walls and dirty toilets without seats. The staff we spoke to were concerned about their inability to move some very ill patients to more suitable care. They made a point of introducing us to a distressed prisoner who appeared unable to care for himself in even the most basic way and who was in an extremely disordered cell. It was a disgraceful way to hold someone who was little more than a boy and very sick. 

 

What happened was that I was in health care and the officers and staff who worked there said to me ‘You must see this, you must see this’ and took me to see this young man in his cell. It was not right he was there they told me.

 

Whatever your views on crime and punishment, I think most people would agree that prison is not the proper place for someone who is ill.

You know the facts but they are worth repeating. Let me give you two figures from Lord Bradley’s report about mental health and the criminal justice system.

About 1 in 200 of the general population has schizophrenia or another delusional disorder. 1 in 200.

It is almost one in ten of the prison population.

About 1 in 7 of the population as a whole have a neurotic disorder like depression.

It is almost 1 in 2 of the prison population.

And that is not to mention much higher rates of mental ill-health amongst women and young offenders, the high rate of prisoners with a dual diagnosis and the estimate of 1 in 3 prisoners with a learning difficulty.

I welcome the commitment by the Department of Health and MOJ to invest in a liaison and diversion service so that people with mental health problems do not end up in the criminal justice system in the first place. I know that this union has strongly supported the Prison Reform Trust and Women’s Institute’s Care not Custody campaign to ensure that the government sticks to its promise.

The Women’s Institute’s involvement was prompted by a member following the death of her mentally ill son in prison. As she said:

‘My son was not a criminal; he was in prison because there was no alternative place of safety’.

I get many letters myself like that from mothers at their wits’ end about their mentally ill son or daughter.

As you know, you can’t really offer much reassurance.

Generally the standard of professional medical care is OK but it is hard to think of a less therapeutic environment than a prison.

Often banged up in your cell for most of the day – either alone or with a cell-mate. Lots of noise. Very little activity to take your mind off things. Plenty of people ready to prey on the least sign of vulnerability.

And of course behaviour that is sometimes very difficult to manage so individuals end up shuttling between healthcare and segregation and sometimes almost invisible – the prisoner who is ‘low’ and at risk of dropping out of site from residential staff who are stretched more and more thinly.

Currently available data shows that there were 64 self-inflicted deaths in prisons across England and Wales in 2011-12. I don’t know what proportion of these was linked to poor mental health but I would be surprised if it was not significant.

Overall, my greatest concern is not those with the most severe illness – those with the most challenging behaviour will now usually receive attention.  In our inspections last year we found that transfer times for patients accessing secure NHS facilities continued to improve although in certain areas of the country, including London, they remained problematic. In prison, patients with more complex mental health problems generally had good access to mental health staff.

I am more concerned with those with lower level problems – the withdrawn and the poor copers – who if we are not careful may go unnoticed or who may just get written off as troublesome without any attempt to understand what lies behind that behaviour.

It seems to me that the most important people for their care are not the professional medical and nursing staff but the residential and other prison officers who interact with them on a day to day basis.

 

But you know as well as I do that prison officers do not have sufficient training or time to provide the care that many in the population they hold require.

 

On the whole, the inspectorate has tended to regard these issues as outside its remit for ‘the treatment of prisoners and the conditions in prisons’.

However, I do note that when the Justice Committee looked into the role of the prison officer back in 2009 they concluded that:

 

A comprehensive review of the role of the prison officer is long overdue.

 

The committee argued, and I quote:

 

The Government’s plans for prison building and prison workforce modernisation will further frustrate development of effective officer-prisoner relationships. These relationships often yield dividends during the handling of stressful prison incidents, as well as contributing to long-term behavioural reform.

 

I do think this needs to be understood. The problem about a growing prison population and diminishing resources is not whether there is the space available to cram them all into – the problem is whether you can manage them safely and productively if resources are stretched too thin.

 

Some establishments manage this better than others despite similar populations and resources.  Nevertheless I think it would be foolish to believe that the risks the Justice Committee pointed out in 2009 are not still present today.

 

On training the Justice Committee said this:

 

We believe the current content of basic training to be inadequate to equip new prison officers with the skills they require. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice extend basic training to include, at the very least, components on dealing with mentally ill prisoners and those coming off drink and drugs, and the legal framework applying to prisoners, particularly human rights and sentencing legislation.

 

And went on to say:

 

“The Government must encourage the development of prison officers if prison staff are to be expected to encourage the development of prisoners. The initial training period must be significantly increased to a level that reflects an appropriate investment to enable prison officers to play a key role in the education and training of prisoners. Furthermore, prison officers should have an equivalent entitlement to training and development once they are in post”

 

And the committee suggested

 

We believe that extending the remit of the Chief Inspector of Prisons to scrutinise the relevance and provision of training would provide valuable independent oversight of the training regime. While this will require modest additional resources, it will lead to a more efficient and effective training regime overall. The Chief Inspector should co-ordinate engagement from the education and skills sectors to assist her in this work.

 

This is something we are going to consider again. We do not inspect staff training at present so I am not able to answer whether things have improved or deteriorated. No doubt you have your own views. It would be a departure for us to do so but I am sympathetic to the view that this is a question I should be able to answer.

 

I said at the beginning of these remarks that one of the purposes of the inspection is to explain to the public what is being done in their name.  We inspected Brixton Prison just before Christmas in 2010 and Liverpool just before last Christmas. I had some criticisms but if instead of coming into prison on Christmas Day to care for the mentally ill, and the alcoholic and the suicidal – those same people were being cared for in a shelter for the homeless, the people looking after them would be applauded. Because it happens out of sight behind prison walls the work you do is not properly understood or appreciated.

Whether we have a role in inspecting this or not, I am sure that the outcomes we wish to see for some of those on whom the rest of society has given up, depend on the skills, experience and vocation of prison officers – and the training they are given should reflect this.

 

Thank you.