Rise in prison staff taking sick leave reveals extent of crisis in prisons

Prison staff took more than 200,000 days of sick leave last year, according to new figures released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). In 2013-14, 208,138 full-time equivalent working days were lost due to prison officers taking sick leave.

The scale of the leave taken illustrates the impact of the crisis in our prison system on the staff who work within prisons, and the challenges they face on a daily basis. Faced with a rise in violent attacks on prison staff, overcrowded prisons, overstretched workloads and resource constraints, prison officers are becoming seriously demoralised.

This situation is entirely unsustainable from the point of view of prison staff and the offenders they work with, as well as for taxpayers and society at large. The crisis in prisons has grown to such an extent that the staff who work within the prison system, who bear the brunt of poor policy decisions, are unable to cope with the pressures exerted upon the system.

The Prison Officers’ Association (PoA) recently published an independent survey of their members, in which they found that none of the benchmarks set by the UK Health and Safety Executive for the management of work related stress have been met in prisons.

The survey, of prison officers and nurses in psychiatric secure hospitals, conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Bedfordshire, focused on work-related stress and wellbeing. Further findings were that:

  • Levels of psychological wellbeing and job satisfaction are considerably poorer than those found in other “highly stressed” occupational groups.
  • Eighty-Four per cent of respondents indicated that they felt under pressure to come into work when they felt unwell.
  • Seven out of every 10 respondents to the survey regret their choice of job.
  • Sixty per cent are considering leaving the Prison Sector in the near future.

The recent MoJ figures on the rise in sick leave add weight to existing concerns on the mental health and work-related stress as evidenced by the survey mentioned. The prison with the most working days (6,212) lost through sickness was Feltham Young Offenders Institute, the subject of a highly critical report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) recently.

The figures by the MoJ are a damning indictment of the policy being followed by the government, revealing a totally demoralised workforce and the need for an urgent review.

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