Prison Officers: Safety

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons on 18th December 2018.

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Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

What steps he is taking to ensure the safety of prison officers.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Conservative, Mid Worcestershire

What steps he is taking to ensure the safety of prison officers.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

We do not tolerate violence against our dedicated and hard-working prison officers. We are strengthening frontline officer numbers and rolling out a key worker scheme to improve prisoner-staff relationships and to tackle the causes of violence. We are giving officers the tools they need, such as body-worn cameras and PAVA spray, to respond where incidents do occur.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

The Secretary of State will know that, in the past year, there has been a 20% increase in violent crime against prison officers. Does he agree there is a disparity between prosecutions when members of the public are assaulted and prosecutions when people in the public service are assaulted? Also, is it not correct that an assault against a prison officer is just as bad as an assault against a policeman?

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have to take assaults against prison officers very seriously. They are putting their lives on the frontline, and we are working closely with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to make sure that crimes committed in prison are dealt with effectively. There are good examples of work with the police and the CPS, such as at HMP Isis. The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 came into force in November, and it increases the maximum custodial sentence from six months to 12 months for those who assault emergency workers, including prison officers.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Conservative, Mid Worcestershire

Recent incidents at Long Lartin Prison in my constituency show that more work is still needed on prison officer safety. Can the Secretary of State assure my constituents who work at Long Lartin that the Government do not consider it job done on prison safety and that they will continue to explore further ways to improve prison safety?

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Indeed, we will continue to find ways of making improvements. I visited Long Lartin in the summer and met a number of my hon. Friend’s constituents who work as prison officers to discuss this issue. The high assault figures are something that we have to address, which is why we have taken the measures I have already outlined. We will continue to focus on bringing down those numbers.

Photo of Ruth George Ruth George Labour, High Peak

Does the Secretary of State agree that the high number of prisoners with mental health conditions is also a serious problem for prison officers? Will he look into the two separate incidents at Nottingham Prison where, even though my constituents had been independently assessed by psychiatrists as needing to be transferred to secure mental health beds, it took five months for them to be transferred?

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising those cases and I will certainly look at the incidents she mentions. She is right to highlight the importance of addressing mental health issues within prisons. A very large proportion of prisoners have mental health issues and, in answer to an earlier question, I addressed the need to work closely with the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that we address such points.