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Attacks on prison staff rise 21% in a year

Assaults and self-harm incidents are also at record highs.

Pentonville Prison, London (Anthony Delvin/PA)
Pentonville Prison, London (Anthony Delvin/PA)

Attacks on prison staff rose 21% in a year as record levels of violence continue to sweep through jails in England and Wales, official figures show.

Assaults and self-harm incidents recorded behind bars have also increased again over the 12-month period to hit new highs.

However, prisons minister Rory Stewart said he hoped the corner had been turned on prison violence with statistics showing a dip over the latest quarter.

There were 10,213 assaults on staff – around 27 a day – recorded in the 12 months to December 2018, up 21% from the previous year, a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) report showed.

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(PA Graphics)

Of those, 995 were classed as “serious” – such as those which require medical treatment or result in fractures, burns, or extensive bruising – up 15% from 2017.

The MoJ report noted that there has been a change in how assaults on staff are recorded, which may have contributed to the increase.

However, the number of assaults on staff in the three months to December 2018 decreased by 14% to 2,349 from the previous quarter  – the first quarterly drop in two years.

The figures come weeks after a 23-year-old prison officer had his throat cut with a razor blade at HMP Nottingham.

In the wake of the attack, Prison Officers’ Association national chairman Mark Fairhurst said the officer, who was new to the job and still in his probationary period, needed 17 stitches.

He has since been released from hospital.

Michael McKenna, 25, has been charged with causing grievous bodily harm, attempting to inflict grievous bodily harm and a racially aggravated public order offence in relation to the incident.

Elsewhere, the Safety In Custody bulletin revealed:

– The total number of assaults jumped by 16% to a record high of 34,223 in the 12 months to December 2018;

– Assaults in the three months to December 2018 decreased by 11% to 8,150 from the previous quarter;

– There were 317 deaths in prison custody in the 12 months to March, up 6% from the previous year;

– Of these, three were homicides, down from five incidents in the previous year;

– Over the same period, there were 87 self-inflicted deaths, up 19% from 73 in the previous year;

– In the 12 months to December 2018, there were 55,598 incidents of self-harm, up 25% from the previous year.

–  The number of self-harm incidents in the three months to December decreased by 7% to 14,313 from the previous quarter.

The statistics provide the latest indication of the scale of the challenge facing ministers and prison staff to end the safety crisis that has hit much of the jail estate in England and Wales.

Mr Stewart had promised to resign if the violence figures did not improve.

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(PA Graphics)

Quarterly decreases in assaults have been seen in previous years but Mr Stewart said it represents the first significant drop after rising violence for four years.

“Violence and self-harm in prisons remains unacceptably high, but I’m pleased at these early signs that we are making progress,” he said.

“It’s a testimony of some very hard work from a lot of people. It gives us some reason to believe that our theory of the way to do this is to really crack down on drugs and weapons coming into the prison and focus on training and supporting staff, may be turning it around.”

Asked if he felt safe in his job, Mr Stewart said: “If you were judging me today, then yes.

“We have managed to do what we said we would do, which was reduce violence. But that is not the end of the story. I am determined to make these places safer and to make them sustainable

“So, in terms of the resignation, we have achieved what we said we’d do, but that’s only the beginning of what we’ve actually got to do.”

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “These numbers show that there is a very long way to go before our prison system is safe for the people who live and work in it. The rise in self-inflicted deaths is especially concerning.

“Everyone will hope that the modest improvement in both self-harm and assault figures in the most recent quarter may be the start of a trend, although it is far too early to say.

“But it would be a mistake, when a change may have started to happen, to put that at risk. Rolling out the deployment of Pava spray to all prison officers will undermine the relationships between staff and prisoners on which all aspects of safety ultimately depend.”

PA

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