Ministry of Justice

The primary role of prison must be to keep the public safe, and to achieve that sustainably we must keep prison officers and prison staff safe, but, as was highlighted by
the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson), since 2007 the number of assaults on prison staff has more than doubled while the number of prosecutions has remained very small. We need to put the law firmly on the side of those who protect us, whether through the private Member’s Bill being steered through the House by
the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill, or another legislative vehicle.

As this is an estimates day debate, I should mention that we must also consider ways in the current legislative framework to protect prison officers and prison staff and to reduce the number of assaults, whether on staff or other inmates. Evidence shows a strong correlation, at the very least, between the rise in the number of assaults and the increase in the use of psychoactive substances in our prisons, so I welcome the investment in tackling access to such substances and—linked to that—the threats posed by mobile devices in prisons and the use of drones around them.

Ultimately, our prisons should be places where staff and offenders are safe and prisoners are challenged and supported to make the most effective use of their time in custody and to better prepare themselves for when they leave prison. The £100 million investment in recruiting 2,500 extra prison officers will make possible the roll-out of the new offender management in custody model, which will improve how offenders are managed from the moment they enter prison until their release. The scheme will tackle reoffending and should help to keep staff in our prisons safer. Similarly, a key workers scheme has been developed to enable prison officers to case-manage between six and 10 prisoners, supporting and encouraging them to address their offending behaviour and to lead productive lives both while in prison and particularly once released.

Prisons need to be places of reform and rehabilitation, but we should remember that incarceration is a punishment for people who commit serious crimes. The people who work there must be protected and any risk to them minimised. While there will never be such a thing as low risk in our prisons, there is certainly such as thing as lower risk, and that risk must always be managed and, where possible, reduced. Our jails must become places of safety, discipline and hard work, places where people are helped to turn their lives around. To achieve that, we must protect those who dedicate their lives to keeping us safe.