This week, Community NEC member and prison officer Chris Knight spoke at the key workers rally at Labour Party conference. You can read his speech here:
My name is Chris Knight and I am a prison officer and member of Community Union’s National Executive Committee.
Community members in the justice and custodial sector work on prison wings, in courts, and transporting detainees. We’re probably not the first people that come to mind when you imagine key workers. But we have been on the frontline throughout the crisis, with no let-up in workload.
Thanks to the hard work of everyone in the sector, we have prevented COVID-19 from sweeping across our prison estate. Through the efforts of workers across the justice sector, prisoners and the public have been kept safe.
This has entailed sacrifices for workers. In the prisons we have been spending long days wearing PPE. We have faced changes to rotas to try to keep prisoners in bubbles, and the same staff on the same wings. We have been challenged with a tense prison environment when the guidelines said fewer visits, and less time out of cells to keep COVID out.
In the very depths of lockdown, when most people were asked to stay at home, Community members in the sector were asked to go into the homes of offenders to fit them with ankle monitoring devices.
The justice sector was already a risky environment before COVID. There were almost 10,000 assaults on staff in prison in England and Wales in 2019, and 64% of Community members in the sector said they had been assaulted at work. With the additional challenges we now face, it’s not hard to appreciate the personal risk that workers in my sector face every day in our duties to protect the public.
The vital contribution of workers in my sector must be recognised. We need assurances that supplies of PPE will be adequate and that steps will be taken to ensure that the safety of staff is the highest priority.
It is testament to the fantastic job that workers across the justice and custodial sector have done that the spread of the virus in prisons and across the justice estate has been limited. Community members are rightly proud of the part we have played in keeping our prisons and the public safe.