Prison staff under strain

Unprecedented rise in treatment for work related trauma

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Prison Officer’s planned industrial action. Image: Getty images, Cate Gillon

Spending on therapy for prison staff increased nearly ten-fold in the last two years, a parliamentary question has revealed.

The rise, from under £20,000 in 2014 to nearly £200,000 last year, is to treat incidents of work related trauma. Investing in staff wellbeing at such a challenging time is certainly something to be welcomed but the growing need for it is a cause for concern.

Prisons are increasingly violent places to work, the latest figures show assaults on staff and the number of traumatic incidents for them to deal with, at record highs. There were nearly 5000 assaults on prison staff in 2015, 2000 more than in 2012. Of those, 625 were serious assaults, up from 273 in 2012.

Prison staff are also dealing with more incidents of suicide in prison. The number of self-inflicted deaths behind bars, in 2012 was 61 but rose to a record high last year of 119.

Prison staff under pressure

“This puts more pressure and stress on staff” says Glyn Travis, Assistant Secretary to the Prison Officer’s Association, adding, “the levels of violence impacts the daily lives of everyone”.

Adding to the strain, there are now fewer staff looking after more prisoners. The number of prison staff has reduced by more than 6,000 since 2010 whilst the prison population has remained the same, at 85,000.

A prison service spokesman has attributed the rise in spending to a new provider making therapy more accessible:

“We introduced a new provider for specialist mental health support in prisons in 2014 and have actively promoted this to our staff, which has resulted in a rise of the number of people accessing these services.”

The HELP Employee Assistance Programme was brought in in 2014 to provide psychological therapies. Prior to 2014, staff were treated for trauma by just a small number of workplace support advisors.

Suffering in silence

Travis says there are still large numbers of staff not receiving treatment from the prison service:”Many staff are still reluctant to speak to management about stress, anxiety and other serious underlying illnesses for fear of being dismissed. All to often staff still suffer in silence, or seek help from the union and GP” he said.

Despite the investment in treating trauma, more staff are leaving the prison service than ever. The total number of recruits to NOMS in the 12 months to 30 June 2016 was 3,766, while 3,678 left the organisation.

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “The safety and welfare of our dedicated prison staff is our top priority. We are absolutely committed to ensuring all prison staff have all of the support they need to successfully carry out their jobs and help make prisons places of reform.”


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