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Assaults on Prison Officers

Volume 592: debated on Tuesday 3 February 2015

10. How many prison officers have been assaulted during the course of their work in the last 12 months; and if he will make a statement. (907371)

There were 3,470 assaults on staff in the year to 30 September 2014, and I can assure the hon. Lady that I get angry and upset at every single one. There is growing evidence that the increased smuggling of new synthetic drugs into prisons is a major factor in levels of prison violence, and we have already announced a series of measures to crack down on it. We will ensure that governors have the powers and support they need to tackle the problem.

Is the Minister as shocked as I am at the number of serious assaults in male prisons? The number has nearly doubled from 241 in September 2009 to 418 last September. Will he look at the record when the Conservatives were last in charge of our prisons, when they cut prison officer numbers and then had to undertake an emergency recruitment programme in 1996?

The hon. Lady is right that these are extremely serious issues, but there is a growing body of evidence that the increase in the number of serious assaults is linked to the increase in new psychoactive substances in prisons. I hear that from governors and prison officers in every prison I visit. We have taken a series of measures, announced only a couple of days ago by the Secretary of State, to give governors more powers to crack down on the problem. We are trying to educate families and friends of prisoners not to smuggle these substances into prisons. If we can reduce the amount of those drugs in prisons, we will reduce levels of violence. All those things, along with the protocol with the police and Crown Prosecution Service and the increased use of body-worn cameras, will help to tackle this serious issue.

Can we just remind ourselves what we mean by “a serious assault” on a prison officer? It can mean serious cuts, fractures, concussion, loss of consciousness and damage to internal organs. If these were any other public servants—nurses, for instances—there would rightly be a public outcry. These are public servants going to work every day too often now in fear of their lives. The Minister has a duty of care towards them. What will he do now—it is not just about drugs—to protect staff in our prisons?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that prison officers are front-line public servants who keep us safe, and I have told her how seriously I take this issue. I read the reports on a daily basis, and I can assure her that they affect me as much as they do her and everyone else in the House. We are taking action in three areas: a wider range of punishments to crack down on the use of new psychoactive substances; the new protocol—it has never happened before—between the CPS and police forces to ensure that prisoners who attack staff or other prisoners spend longer behind bars; and an increased use of body-worn cameras. All that will help.