At a meeting organised by the Joint Unions in Prisons Alliance (JUPA) and Chaired by Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon, prison officers, medics and education workers revealed the extent of the violence they contend with at work.
Reporting from the event, the Morning Star said one officer, Joe Edwards, told the meeting he had been assaulted three times in the last eight months, sustaining injuries that left him unconscious and with all his front teeth chipped.
Another, said they had witnessed a prisoner attempt to cut off their own penis, while stories were also shared of a nurse who lost her eye and others who have had to receive medical treatment after unintentionally inhaling psychoactive substances smoked by prisoners.
Mr Edwards said his employers had been unsympathetic and that he was not even referred to occupational health therapy until after he had suffered a mental breakdown.
“I got a lot of support from my colleagues and union branch officials. But from managers, it’s been lacking, and feels like they’re attempting to palm me off,” the Morning Star quoted him as saying.
The meeting brought to light fears among prison staff that their health and wellbeing is not protected as much as the prisoners that they look after, with many reporting that the policies workers have to deal with after a dangerous incident just increase their stress levels.
After taking time off to recover from a workplace injury or ill health, workers must apply retrospectively to have these days recorded as sick leave rather than using up their holidays, for instance.
On top of all this, the workers complained that their retirement age of 68 was “just unsustainable” and argued for its reduction to 60.
Annie Norman, a former prison nurse, asked: “With these challenges, how can we recruit good people into the prison services? And when workers are treated so badly, how can the prison services hope to retain them?”
JUPA is a joint initiative between BMA, GMB, NAPO, the POA, UCU, Unison and Unite.