Harassment is something way too many people have to deal with way too often. Nobody should go to work afraid of what they will face, and abuse or violence should never be an everyday workplace hazard.
Research conducted by Community last year revealed the true extent of harassment in the justice and custodial sector.
It showed that 86% of those in the sector had been verbally abused in the past 12 months. Over a quarter reported that they have been abused daily, and another third stated that they have been verbally abused weekly.
The ongoing harassment of justice and custodial workers is having a real detrimental impact on the sector. Official figures show that the prison system alone has lost a cumulative total of more than 86,000 years of prison officer experience since 2010.
Working in the justice and custodial sector has become increasingly unattractive for those who might have looked to get into the sector and to those already within it. So, what needs to be done about this?
The Government must work with staff, employers, and unions to develop a clear and measurable plan to reduce assaults on staff year on year.
Assaulting staff must lead to tough responses. Most staff who have been subjected to assault report it to their employer, yet the majority are dissatisfied with the outcome. In some cases, no action is taken at all.
This situation is unacceptable, and both employers and the Government must ensure staff subjected to assaults receive proper support and the offender faces consequences for their actions. This must include police action when prison and immigration officers are assaulted.
There must be an improvement in health and safety standards across the sector. Key to ensuring officers in the justice and custodial sector can do their work in safety is providing them with the right equipment.
This includes body-worn cameras for courts and prisoner escorting officers, and higher grade personal protective equipment such as stab vests for officers working in electronic monitoring.
Low staffing levels and lone working have a direct impact on officers’ ability to do their work safely. This is not merely an issue of the number of officers working across the sector, this is also about the years of experience they have.
We know that more experienced officers are better at dealing with difficult situations and de-escalating tensions. The Government must set a plan for retaining long-standing officers in the sector.
Finally, there must be a parity of respect for all officers. It is a simple principle – officers doing the same kind of job should be shown the same respect, whether they are working with a private provider or in the public justice system.
The Government must ensure all justice and custodial sector staff – including those that work in privatised estates – are nominated for the same medals and awards.
Ending harassment in the industry will not be an easy process, but it is a necessary one. It involves government and employers working with us, to show that nobody in the justice and custodial sector should fear going to work in the morning and that harassment is never okay.
You can find out more about our Keep Us Safe campaign here.
If you are a member of Community and need help or advice, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0800 389 6332.