Prison staff want to be safe inside

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Prison staff want to be safe inside

Napo is one of nine unions who have come together to form the ‘Safety in Prisons’ campaign, which was set up last year following an exponential rise in prison violence. The number of attacks against prison staff rising to at a record level – an average of almost 28 a day according to the latest official report. The other unions in the campaign are the UCU, RCN, BMA, GMB, UNISON, POA, PCS and Unite who represent the majority of staff working in prisons employed directly by HMPPS, private prison providers and staff working for contractors providing cleaning, maintenance, health care and education services.

The campaign so far:

We have produced a joint policy statement for the alliance, entitled “Safe Inside Unions in Prison Alliance.

This document outlines our intentions and a number of action points, including h&s systems for all staff, effective communication with unions on risk assessments and safe systems of work, tackling violence in prisons and the targeting of women, preventing exposure to Spice and adequate levels of prison officers.

The report calls for a number of actions to address these concerns, including improvements to health and safety reporting, tougher responses to violent incidents in prisons and joint working with trade unions to reduce exposure to psychoactive substances. Ensuring sufficient staffing levels is critically important in improving prison safety. Understaffing and the loss of experienced prison staff impacts negatively on the safety and welfare of prisoners and those working in prisons, as described in various HMIP inspection reports.

The campaing has also

  • Written to Lucy Fraser QC MP, Minister of State for Justice at the MoJ and requested an urgent meeting with her following the Prime Ministers recent pledge to create 10, 000 additional prison places.
  • Put down several Early Day Motions
  • Met with HSE inspector for probation and prisons
  • Had national press coverage for our campaign

We will also be meeting with Phil Copple, Executive Director, HMPPS and are planning a lobby of parliament.

Survey staff working in prison staff.

As well as the above actions we have also surveyed prison staff across England and Wales to find out their experiences of working in the prison environment. The results were used in these initiatives to lobby (including in the parliamentary briefing doc). We have promoted the results of this survey and used them as a basis to improve working conditions in prisons to ensure that staff are safe when they go to work.

The headline statistics from the survey were as follows:

  • 26% of all respondents had experienced physical abuse in the last 12 months
  • 78% of respondents had experienced verbal abuse in the past 12 months; 50% of the group had been verbally abused more than 10 times during this period.
  • 53% had experienced exposure to psychoactive substances. This resulted in 39% of those people becoming ill and almost all of them reporting feelings of light-headedness, dizziness, confusion and tiredness.
  • Nearly two-thirds (63.6%) of prison workers reported that they had felt unsafe at work in the last 12 months.

The survey was completed by 89 out of 222 Napo members working in prisons. This is too small a sample group to be able to extract meaningful statistical data. But the comments our members mad are very powerful and some common themes run through them. Particularly in relation to the lack of experienced prison staff in prisons and impact this has on other staff, no personal alarms/radios, interview areas not being satisfactory (walls so thin conversations can be overheard), lack of alarms,  the issue of excessive workloads and no confidence that OMiC would resolve any of the problems.

A selection of the comments is as follow:

We work with no alarms and are often ignored whilst on the wings due to lack of staff, if there were to be an incident there aren’t enough staff to assist”.

“There are not panic alarms in the interview rooms. The rooms are rubbish and the walls thin so the (prison) orderly could overhear conversations. We have no workloads measure tool and workloads are increasing causing stress”.

“Not enough experienced prison officers, – too many young inexperienced staff coming in and leaving within weeks. Residents pick up on the inexperience and push their luck. Also inexperienced governors. Staff areas not clean, smell of spice permeates into staff areas. Closure of Holloway ‘substantially and negatively affected the other female establishments in terms of prisoner behaviour.  Levels of violence increased in past 12 months”.

“As a PO who meets offenders on the wing to discuss very difficult subjects and to challenge their thinking and behaviour, it baffles me that we are not provided with personal alarms, radios or an other measure to alert staff. Some of the interviewing rooms do not have general alarms and it feels as if it will take a serious incident happening to a member of staff who is not prison officer before these areas are looked at seriously. Telling people to report to staff when they are working on the wing to prison staff are aware is not good enough because wing staff have too much work and ongoing issues on the wing to realistically be in position to wat hove meeting with offenders.

“The main problem appears to be lack of safe interviewing space for probation work”


“The usual issues with unsustainably high case loads is having the inevitable impact on mine and my colleagues ability to complete the expected tasks in the desired time frames and adding the stress of the job”.

 “We have no workload measurement tool and workloads are increasing causing stress”.


under OMiC we have been told the size of our team in decreasing. “OMiC is supposed to help but not seen any signs of it”

“Our caseloads are in excess of 180 cases each and work in untenable at these levels due to recruitment failings. I am therefore looking to move out of my prison job as it will only get worse under OMiC!”

“I have been waiting to go to a new post for almost two years but can’t leave as there are no staff to replace me. The reason for this at our staffing levels have been cut again under OMiC”.


The prison supplement has not increased in line with the NPS pay award”.

“Prison and probation staff are under paid”

On the root cause of the problems

“Whilst your questions are rightly about staffing conditions, prisoners are held in inhuman conditions and so you cage them like animals, you treat them like animals, they behave like animals”.


Commenting in the Morning Star on the survey results, Richard Burgon, Shadow Justice Minister said  “The government needs to listen to hardworking staff who keep our prisons running and address this crisis with an emergency plan with new funds to make our prisons safe”.

Napo will raise the issues highlighted by the survey comments at the NPS health and safety committee and will continue to be involved in the campaign as there is much to do. JUPA shows the power of unions coming together to work on joint campaigns.

Sarah Friday, Napo National Official

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