Prison staff want to be safe inside

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Double Discrimination?

Prison staff want to be safe inside

Prison interior. Jail cells and shadows, dark background. 3d illustration

Napo is one of nine unions who have come together to form the Safety in Prisons campaign, 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.

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 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 made 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.


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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