Assault on front-line workers “de-facto decriminalised”, warns report

21 prison officers in England and Wales being assaulted per day following 247% rise in a decade

Workers in Britain’s prisons are facing a worrying “spike in violence” that could bring the justice sector to its knees, a new report has revealed. The report also showed the scale at which prison workers face violence and abuse in their roles, highlighting the “de-facto decriminalising” of assault on front-line workers.

The Keep Us Safe report was prepared by the trade union Community, which represents more workers in privatised justice services than any other union across the UK.

It showed that one in four have been physically assaulted at work at least once in the past year, with one in ten having been physically assaulted twice or more in the same period. Assaults on prison staff in England and Wales alone increased by over a staggering 247% since 2010, equalling 21 prison officers being physically assaulted every single day.

87% of prison workers reported incidents of assaults.

64% said that their report about abuse at work did not lead to any consequences.

The report features numerous harrowing testimonies from prison workers. A female Courts and Prisoner Escorting Officer recalled an incident when “whilst trying to restrain prisoners legs he managed to kick out and I was kicked in the sternum”.

A male Public Sector Prison Officer recalled: “[In] April 2019 I had a metal flask wrapped around my head in the [Care and Separation Unit] which resulted in a broken cheekbone. October 2020 I was punched twice to the face after a prisoner tried to assault another member of staff. December 2020 a prisoner assaulted me with 11 batteries in a sock.”

Workers were also clear that meaningful action is rarely expected after an assault, with one Courts and Prisoner Escorting Officer saying:

“Police don’t do anything if we report [an] assault as they say it’s part of our job”.

Roy Rickhuss CBE, General Secretary of the trade union Community, says:

“Our workers in the justice sector are immensely proud of the hard work and resilience they have shown during the pandemic, but they’re also tired. Too often during the pandemic, prison workers have been the forgotten emergency service.   

The nature of their work has meant they have been unable to work from home, being in close contact with high numbers of people a day. This has meant a workforce highly exposed to Coronavirus, often having to work long shifts to cover for others who are at home isolating or unwell. 

After an exhausting year and a half, the thought of returning to high levels violence is deeply troubling. Perhaps the most worrying revelation in the report is the scale to which assault is being committed against our brave Justice Sector workers with impunity. We’re calling for urgent reform from government. We’re asking them to keep us safe.” 

David Lammy MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, says:

“The Conservatives’ disastrous mishandling of the prison service has led to a huge spike in violence against the workers who sacrifice so much to keep the rest of us safe. 

The government must act urgently to improve conditions in our overcrowded, understaffed and dangerous prisons, as well as to ensure those who assault prison workers are punished.” 

Keep Us Safe was released on 11th August, and can be read here.

Following the recommendations from the report Community have launched #KeepUsSafe, a campaign backed by politicians from across the political spectrum calling for legal reform to protect justice sector workers.

The campaign calls for immediate measures the Government must take to address this crisis including improving health and safety standards, ensuring assaults on staff are met with a tough response, improve staffing levels, and retain experienced staff.

If you are a member of Community and need help or advice, please contact us at or on 0800 389 6332.

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