We have seen a great deal in the spotlight about prisons recently, from prison reforms, overcrowding, cuts in officer grades, drugs in prisons and assaults. Our nurses and many of our members work in these very challenging settings.
They are feeling the impact of austerity and prison overcrowding. We have sadly seen in this area of nursing practice a great difficulty in recruiting staff and retaining staff too. This is a wider issue in all health services as we know, but we have to speak up for our prison nursing staff as they too are having to deal with complex challenges like new psychoactive substances, deaths in prison and self-harm commonly resulting in emergency admission to A&E. Prison nurses work in these “hidden institutions” because there is an ever increasing need for nursing care, compassion and decency. We rely on our care-givers not to dismiss the needs of our incarcerated populations, just as prison reformer Elizabeth Fry did not turn her back in the 1800s.
Pay represents the value that we place on a service, the importance of work undertaken in society and it says “we recognise and value what you do”. Decent and fair pay is what helps staff to stay working in these difficult places and difficult times. Sadly, we have seen the erosion of fair and decent pay over the years which has impacted on staff recruitment. Seeing cuts to prison officers has had a damaging impact on prison nursing staff who work long hours with less support and protection. Now we see the evidence of that in higher suicides and self-harm in our prisoner communities and an increase in assaults of nursing staff. This has to change. As Elizabeth Fry, said: “Punishment is not for revenge, but to lessen crime and reform the criminal.” Nurses working in our prisons deserve decent pay to ensure the current reforms are achieved by the Government.