The RCN says that violence against staff in prisons should be seen as exceptional, and always unacceptable.
The comments were made in response to new research that shows more than a quarter of staff working in prisons have been the victim of physical violence in the last year.
A survey of more than 1,600 people working in over 100 prisons in England and Wales showed that almost two-thirds of respondents reported feeling unsafe at work in the last 12 months.
The Joint Unions in Prisons Alliance (JUPA) - a coalition of trade unions and professional organisations - says that of those who reported a physical assault to their employer, more than half were dissatisfied with the action taken.
In a further 20% of cases, respondents said no action was taken at all.
Brian Morton, RCN National Officer and Co-Chair of the JUPA, said: “Unfortunately, assaults are now almost a routine experience for many people who work in prisons.
“Poor reporting mechanisms and a failure to investigate the causes and consequences of these events is leaving staff feeling helpless and hopeless.”
The research also reviewed the effect of exposure to psychoactive substances – including spice – on staff. Over half of staff said they had been exposed, and over a third reported becoming ill as a result.
Brian added: “Drug use is poisoning the atmosphere in our prisons, forcing some staff to carry out their duties while experiencing secondary effects. This is a new low in the history of our penal system and must be addressed as a matter of priority.”
JUPA will write to the Minister responsible for prisons, Robert Buckland QC MP, to request a meeting to discuss the issues raised in this report.
JUPA is calling for urgent action from the Government and Prison Service for:
- tougher responses to violent incidents, including use of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (offences) Act 2018
- better health and safety reporting, including a single reporting system
- action to prevent exposure to psychoactive substances
- joint work between employers and unions to examine the causes and effects of violence against staff
- more prison officers and other personnel to ensure safe and effective staffing levels.