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Quarter of prison staff have been recent victim of physical violence

17 June 2019

Over a quarter (26%) of staff working in prisons have been the victim of physical violence within the last year, according to new figures from a coalition of nine trade unions and professional organisations.

The survey, published by the Joint Unions in Prisons Alliance (JUPA)*, found that one in seven (14%) of staff who were a victim of recent physical violence said they have been assaulted more than ten times in the past year.

Of those who reported a physical assault to their employer, 57% were dissatisfied with the action taken. In a further 20% of cases, respondents said no action was taken at all. Almost two-thirds (63%) of survey respondents reported feeling unsafe at work in the last twelve months.

The survey also looks at the effect of exposure to psychoactive substances - including spice - on staff. Over half of staff (53%) said they had been exposed, and over a third (39%) reported becoming ill as a result. Symptoms included light-headedness, dizziness, confusion and tiredness (97%), nausea and vomiting (49.4%), increased heart rate and blood pressure (34.5%) and anxiety and paranoia (28%).

UCU acting general secretary, Paul Cottrell, said: 'Prison educators play a vital role in rehabilitating offenders and should not have to run the gauntlet of violence and drug exposure when they go to work. This survey shows that not only is violence against staff in prisons shockingly frequent, they are also routinely subjected to the harmful effects of psychoactive substances.

'It is appalling that two-thirds of staff in prisons report feeling unsafe in their workplace, and that so many say their concerns aren't being dealt with properly. We urgently need much tougher action from the government and prison employers to improve the safety and working conditions of staff in our prisons.'

JUPA is calling for urgent action from the government, prison service and other employers in the sector to ensure:

  • tougher responses to violent incidents, including use of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (offences) Act 2018
  • better health and safety reporting, including a single reporting system
  • action to prevent exposure to psychoactive substances
  • joint work between employers and unions to examine the causes and effects of violence against staff
  • more prison officers and other personnel to ensure safe and effective staffing levels.

* The Joint Unions in Prisons Alliance brings together the following nine trade unions and professional organisations representing staff employed by Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service, private prison providers, and staff working for contractors providing education services, cleaning, maintenance, healthcare. They are the POA - The Professional Trades Union for Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers; The BMA - the trade union and professional body for doctors and medical students in the UK; GMB Union; Napo - the trade union and professional association that represents probation staff; The Public and Commercial Services Union; Royal College of Nursing; University and College Union; UNISON; and Unite. 

Last updated: 18 June 2019