Prison officers perform a vital role across prisons and other secure units across the country, maintaining order and ensuring the health and wellbeing of colleagues and prisoners alike.

Unfortunately, we are seeing a growing number of prison officers being left with career-altering injuries and psychological damage as a result of incidents within prisons. These incidents vary in severity, with many injuries coming as a result of assaults by prisoners.

Prison assaults on the rise

In fact, Ministry of Justice statistics showed that in 2019 the number of assaults of officers reached in excess of 10,000 a year - considerably higher than in the past.

This legal guide goes into greater detail about the types of injuries prison officers can suffer, the reasons for them, the impact they have and how prison officers can access legal support from Thompsons through their union.

What type of workplace accidents occur in prisons?

Accidents in the workplace can and do happen. This is as true for prison officers working in prison settings as it is in other workplaces or professions. Prisons have a duty of care to their staff and it is up to the management teams to ensure prison officers are given the correct training and equipment, and there are adequate staffing levels to protect officers from unnecessary danger.

Prison accidents vary from slips, trips and falls to serious spinal and brain injuries and, in rare cases, injuries that are fatal. The most common cause of prison officer injury occurs when officers are assaulted by one, or more prisoners.

Why are prison officer assaults becoming more common?

Prison assaults often occur as a result of a combination of factors:

  • Failure to risk assess or to pass on information correctly – a failure to capture and act upon security information on the specific heightened threats posed by particular individuals or groups of prisoners can mean officers are not fully equipped to deal those threats and can, therefore, put them at serious risk of injury;
  • Understaffing – a lack of appropriate staffing can leave prison officers having to restrain prisoners or break up fights on their own, leaving them at a higher risk of being assaulted;
  • Lack of training – where prison officers have not been shown how to use state of the art methods of restraining aggressive prisoners, for instance via Spontaneous Protection Enabling Accelerated Response (SPEAR) training;
  • Poor or non-existent personal protective equipment (PPE) – prison officers can be vulnerable if they don’t have appropriate equipment, such as PAVA spray, ratchet cuffs or protective vests.

What impact does this have on prison officers?

An assault can have a life-changing impact on a prison officer. The physical injuries can leave them out of work for months and, in some cases, unable to return to employment.

The psychological injuries suffered by prison officers as a result of assaults range from relatively minor and short-lived mental health issues, sometimes described by medical experts as ‘adjustment disorders’, through to more serious depression and anxiety and right up to the most severe cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This can leave assault victims unable to work and, in some cases, unable even to leave their homes.

With evidence showing that people are walking away from the job in large numbers – more than one in 10 each year – the risk of increasing pressures on those officers who remain is acute. More experienced prison officers leaving the service also eats away at the opportunities to pass on valuable ‘on the job’ knowledge, skills and experience to train and support new starters.

What support is available to prison officers?

The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) is the professional trade union for prison, correctional and secure psychiatric workers. The POA represents the interests of over 35,000 members working in UK prisons and secure settings – fighting for their rights and protecting their interests inside the workplace.

Thompsons Solicitors has more than a decade of experience working with the POA to defend and enforce the rights of its members – from representing prison officers injured in accidents and providing legal guidance to members who have been assaulted to assist them in applications to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), through to negotiating better terms and conditions for employment rights and championing improved health and safety in prisons.

Together, Thompsons and POA offer a powerful package of legal protection to members of the union. Read more about the free legal services available to POA members.