Prison Officer Safety

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th June 2018.

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Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South 12:00 am, 5th June 2018

What progress the Government have made on improving the safety of prison officers.

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Conservative, Bexleyheath and Crayford

What progress the Government have made on improving the safety of prison officers.

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The safety of prison officers is of paramount importance. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. I pay tribute to Chris Bryant, who introduced a private Member’s Bill to double the sentence for assaults on prison officers and other emergency workers. There is much more we can do in this area—we are testing pepper spray and looking at body-worn cameras—but fundamentally this is about having the right staffing numbers and a proper, predictable regime in a prison to calm the prison down and prevent these completely unacceptable attacks.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South

Despite the number of assaults on prison officers, very few offenders are prosecuted. Will the Minister ensure that anyone who attacks an on-duty prison officer faces the full weight of the law and can expect the punishments that those crimes would attract elsewhere?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Absolutely, and this was debated in this House when we discussed that private Member’s Bill. At the moment, people are getting a sentence of 22 weeks for spitting at a police officer, but it is rare for such prosecutions to be brought for assaulting a prison officer. We therefore wish to work closely with our colleagues in the police to make sure that prosecutions are brought and that prison officers are properly protected. I have been talking to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service to ensure that we can get more police officers into prisons.

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Conservative, Bexleyheath and Crayford

When I recently visited Pentonville prison, I was naturally concerned about reports of a number of attacks on its prison officers. The safety of our prison officers is of paramount importance, so what further steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that they have all the support they need to keep themselves safe?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for visiting Pentonville prison. I was lucky enough to be there two weeks ago, and I pay tribute to its excellent governor for the very good work he is doing. It is one of the most testing, busy London local prisons, and it faces a huge number of issues, but protecting prison officers is fundamentally about having a predictable, stable regime, enough prison officers on the landing, the right kind of training and relationships to calm things down, and, ultimately, protection.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Given that the number of assaults on prison officers has risen by 23% in the past 12 months, what assessment has the Minister made of new psychoactive substances causing that problem? When does he expect the roll-out of body-worn cameras to be complete?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The right hon. Gentleman is a very experienced predecessor in my job. Clearly there is a strong correlation with these new psychoactive substances; it is difficult otherwise to account for the huge rise in violence. The substances seem to drive both self-harming behaviour and extreme violent behaviour. I will give a written answer on exactly when we will fulfil the body-worn camera programme.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Shadow Minister (Justice)

The Minister can dress it up however he wants, but the bottom line is that cutting 7,000 frontline prison officers between 2010 and 2016 has caused prison safety to plummet. Will he tell the House how many more officers are needed to end this emergency in our prisons and when he will recruit them by?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

This is a very good challenge. Numbers are clearly one of the issues, but there are others, such as psychoactive substances, which have been mentioned. That is why we have recruited an extra 2,500 prison officers. We believe that that gives us the right numbers, because it allows us to have one prison officer for six prisoners to run our keyworker scheme. We see already in key prisons that that is beginning to have a real impact on violence.