Case Studies

Assaults on prison warders, police

by Mark Rowe

Serious assaults on prison staff are rising sharply, according to the latest (update to December 2017) Safety in Custody Statistics. For the stats in full visit Some 864 such assaults were recorded in 2017, compared with 789 the year before – and 302 in 2010, and 173 in the year 2000 (although the statisticians point out that cases were under-reported in the 2000s and cannot be directly compared with later years).

All assaults on prison staff in 2017 totalled 8429, compared with 6844 the year before, 2848 in the year 2010 and 2192 in the year 2000. All types of injuries have risen, including those rated as serious such as fractures, stabbings and broken teeth and noses. Stabbings for instance were in the dozens per year in the 2000s and went up from 165 in 2016 to 212 in 2017.

Most of those 8429 were at men’s establishments; only 386 at women’s. In male and female prisons alike, most of the assaults are by prisoners on other prisoners, although of the 29,485 total some 7303 in 2017 were ‘prisoner on officer’, compared with 6314 the year before; a 15.7 per cent increase. In 2010 the total was 2369. The figures do not include Secure Children’s Homes (SCHs) or Secure Training Centres (STCs).

Some 23 per cent of ‘total assault incidents’ – 29,485 in all in 2017, compared with 26,022 the year before – involved a weapon (which does include biting and spitting, and thrown things such as furniture, although there were 657 cases of a knife or blade used).


For Labour Richard Burgon, East Leeds MP, and Shadow Justice Secretary, said: “Cuts have consequences and their damaging impact is clear for all to see in our prisons. The Conservatives’ reckless decision to slash prison budgets and axe thousands of prison officers has left our prisons more violent than ever. It is completely scandalous that there are now 81 attacks every single day in our prisons including a record number of assaults on our dedicated prison staff.

“Despite the Government’s belated recruitment drive, there are still nearly 4,000 fewer frontline officers than in 2010. The Tories need to go much further in officer recruitment, if they are serious about turning our prisons into places of safety and reform.”

And police

Meanwhile Lincolnshire Chief Constable Bill Skelly reported that 271 officers and staff were assaulted in Lincolnshire in 2017. He said that those assaults not only impact on his force’s ability to provide a safe Lincolnshire because they cause absences from work; they also acutely affect the morale of others.

Mr Skelly said: “All too often police officers and staff are subjected to assaults and threats. While the severity of such attacks changes, the impact upon society does not. It is never acceptable to assume that assaults upon police officers and staff should be tolerated; they are not simply ‘part of the job,’ and any presumption that a member of the police service should expect to be, or should accept being abused or subjected to violent behaviour, is wrong. While it is clear that the nature of policing requires members of the organisation to handle difficult and hostile situations, assaults upon them are serious and unacceptable.”

The first reading of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill was in the House of Lords on April 30 after its third reading in the Commons. It would make law that where a victim of assault was an emergency worker that should be an aggravating factor in court – including ambulance staff, as welcomed by the GMB trade union.

Picture by Mark Rowe; Pentonville Prison, north London.

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