Are eight prison staff assaulted every day?
"Jail laggro — Cons attack 8 prison staff every day"
The Sun, 23 August 2013
According to this morning's Sun, there's been a revelation: figures uncovered by Tory MP Priti Patel have shown that eight members of staff are assulted every day in prisons in England and Wales.
The safety of prison staff is a serious issue, but finding basic information about it doesn't actually involve anything more than going to the Ministry of Justice website. Their safety in custody series covers figures for assaults, self harm and deaths in prison since 2002, including assaults on staff.
Between April 2012 and March 2013, 2,957 prison staff were assaulted in England and Wales - the equivalent of eight per day. That compares to over 14,000 assaults in total - 38 per day. So assaults on staff account for one in five assaults in prison.
If you'd have asked the same question a decade ago, you'd have got the same answer: 2,851 assaults on staff were recorded in 2002 (although the actual total could be higher, since the reporting of incidents has improved over the years).
But this doesn't mean the scale of the problem is the same. The prison population has been rising almost consistently since 2000. As the Sun points out as well, more prisoners are being sentenced to prison for violent offences. In 2002 21% of all people sentenced to prison had committed 'violence against the person'. In 2012 this was 28%.
More prisoners - or at least more prisoners who've been sentenced for violence - might mean we should expect violence in prisons to have increased. Instead, taking into account the number of prisoners, the rate of assaults of staff has fallen slightly over the past decade, particularly considering that earlier assault reports may have been underestimated.
This doesn't mean prison staff's jobs are becoming any easier. Officers still have to deal with prisoner-on-prisoner assaults, as well as incidents of self harm (there were 267 incidents per 1,000 prisoners in 2012) and deaths in prison custody (as measured by the Ministry of Justice, 2.2 deaths per 1,000 prisoners in 2012, mostly unchanged since a decade ago).
'Zero tolerance' has been the buzzword response by the current and previous government. So while there's some indication that the situation with assaults may be improving, this will still be seen as eight assaults a day too many.