Prison officers are being offered policing skills to meet the “real challenge” of burgeoning offending levels in UK jails.
Staff are being primed to take statements and control crime scenes as South Yorkshire Police faces dealing with an estimated 100 crime referrals each month at four of the region’s criminal institutions.
A course for prison staff is being developed by the force’s crime training department to be rolled out towards the end of the year with a report to South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings talking up an opportunity to “significantly increase our capability and capacity to manage crimes effectively”.
South Yorkshire is also seeking funding from the prisons to recruit additional civilian investigators, with Doncaster’s HMP Marshgate being the first to support this initiative and others interested.
The news of “shifting the burden” from overstretched police officers comes as the government is planning to arm prison officers with police-style incapacitant sprays as part of a major crackdown on violence in jails.
After trials at four jails, guards at 91 prisons are to be issued with the canisters at a reported cost of £2million, prisons minister Rory Stewart will announce today.
The town of Doncaster has increased its “proactive” approach to the area’s four prisons, with the recently revived neighbourhood policing teams taking on two operations a month to defend the prison perimeters.
The force reports the forging of “excellent links” with prison intelligence officers and the regional prison team to ensure all operations are “intelligence-led wherever possible”.
Since May, a prison partnership board has been operating in the town. Originally set up with HMP Lindholme governor Simon Walters, it now involves all four jails.
In the report to PCC’s public accountability board, Doncaster’s district commander Chief Superintendent Shaun Morley states: “There is much to be accomplished by working closer together and this will be an important element in better understand demands, set realistic partnership objectives and ascertain where there are opportunities for improvement.
“That means future work will be targeted, with greater chances of success.
“The prisons have agreed to have a number of their officers trained in basic crime scene management and statement taking, which will significantly increase our capability and capacity to manage crimes effectively.”
The proposals to introduced the PAVA pepper spray has been welcomed by the Prison Officers Association which has warned its members were working in “the most hostile and violent workplace in Western Europe”.
Chairman Mark Fairhurst said: “The POA have campaigned tirelessly to ensure that our members receive the protective equipment they so desperately require to quell violence and keep themselves and prisoners safe.”
Meanwhile, with the system under intense scrutiny after levels of violence, self-harm and drug use behind bars surged, Prison Governors Association president Andrea Albutt will later today paint a bleak picture of the state of jails – pointing to “horrendous” quarterly statistics on violence.
She is expected to say: “We have crumbling prisons and an inability to give a safe, decent and secure regime to large numbers of men and women in our care due to lack of staff, not fit for purpose contracts and a much more violent, disrespectful, gang and drug affiliated population.”
How jails in England and Wales operate has been brought into sharp focus of late after a report found that staff had lost control of HMP Birmingham, one of the biggest in Britain. It said inmates were openly taking drugs, carrying out assaults and behaving with “near impunity”.
Justice Secretary David Gauke took the dramatic step of moving the former Winson Green jail back into government control for at least six months, having been previously run by G4S on a £30 million private contract.