PRISON officers are to receive body-worn cameras as part of a £3m investment to improve safety in jails, the Government has announced.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) revealed it is investing £2m in 5,600 cameras, meaning every prison officer across England and Wales will have access to the devices.
A further £1m is being invested in “police-style” handcuffs and restraints to reduce the need for staff to use physical holds to control aggressive prisoners.
Four prisons – HMP Wealstun, HMP Risley, HMP Preston and HMP Hull – will also trial the use of incapacitant spray, similar to pepper spray, for dealing with violent offenders.
Prisons minister Sam Gyimah said the increased security measures will ensure officers have the right tools for the job.
“I am absolutely determined to tackle head-on the issues that undermine the safety and security of our prisons and to ensure our dedicated officers have the tools they need to do the job,” he said.
I am absolutely determined to tackle head-on the issues that undermine the safety and security of our prisons.Prisons minister Sam Gyimah
“That is why we have introduced a range of measures to boost security – bringing 300 sniffer dogs trained in detecting psychoactive substances and putting in place technology to block mobile phones.
“This latest investment underlines our commitment to transform our prisons into places of safety and should send a clear message to those intent on thwarting our efforts to make progress that we will do everything in our power to stop them.”
The MoJ said the cameras “will act as a visible deterrent against violence” and assist in prosecutions against those who commit crimes in jails.
The move comes after trials in 22 establishments and the large-scale deployment of body-worn cameras to more than 22,000 Metropolitan Police officers in October last year.
It also follows a recruitment drive launched by the Government in response to surging levels of violence and self-harm in prisons across the country.
The Government recently revealed it is more than halfway towards its target to bring in 2,500 additional prison officers by the end of next year.
Figures for October 2016 to August 2017 showed there was a net increase of 1,290 new prison officers, with a further 872 personnel expected to have started their training by January 2018, the MoJ said.
The Prison Officers Association said it welcomes the rollout of protective measures such as the incapacitant spray and body-worn cameras but that nothing can replace correct and safe staffing levels.
A spokesman added: “The 30 per cent cut to staff since 2010 and the increase in violence and riots during that period still has to be addressed and equipment is no replacement for staff.”
The issue of increasing violence was highlighted in the 2016/17 HM Inspectorate of Prisons Annual Report.
Its chief inspector, Peter Clarke, wrote: “Last year I reported that too many of our prisons had become unacceptably violent and dangerous places. The situation has not improved – in fact, it has become worse.
“There have been startling increases in all types of violence.”
The biggest increase was in assaults on staff which, in the 12 months to December 2016, rose by 38 per cent to 6,844 incidents. Of those 789 were classed as serious, an increase of 26 per cent.
In total there were more than 26,000 assaults in prisons in England and Wales, an increase of 27 per cent.