There is no excuse for prisoners assaulting staff but incident reports, across the five year review period, did show numerous examples of situations that had unnecessarily escalated. On many occasions it was obvious that a different approach from the staff member would have been far less likely to have resulted in an assault. There were also several examples of an assault occurring when policy, procedures and common-sense had been ignored. Examples include:

  • Multiple examples of staff members opting to continue conversations with prisoners about poor behaviour while they were agitated and yelling at the staff member that they do not have to listen.
  • An officer who refused a prisoner’s request for a towel, choosing to later revisit the issue with the person, even though no further useful information could be supplied. The prisoner reacted to the topic being revisited.
  • A staff member suggesting to a prisoner the reason she was trying to get a transfer was because the officer was constantly ‘nagging’ her about cleaning the showers properly. The staff member was walking very close to the prisoner at the time and she knocked the staff member while trying to move away.
  • An officer with no support, and without calling in the incident, placing himself between two fighting prisoners.

It should also be emphasised that these examples were revealed by the way staff themselves had written up the incident. Interviews with prisoners would undoubtedly have revealed other allegations about officer behaviour.

Historically prison officer training has been heavily focussed on use of force techniques to control or restrain a person when necessary. Use of force training for prison officers is one of a small number of courses which are to be undertaken or refreshed annually.

The findings of this review would indicate the Department is for the most part successful in training these skills. This is shown by the surprisingly small percentage of assaults that were triggered when the prisoner was agitated or stressed, or during escorts or restraints. However, the large proportion of assaults that were triggered in response to advice, information or instructions being provided to a prisoner, coupled with the numerous examples of situations which were escalated by staff, suggests a need for enhanced training in conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques. This should be considered as part of both induction and routine refresher training.

Equally, there were many incidents where the staff member demonstrated good practice but an assault still occurred. This suggests that the conflict resolution skills of many staff are already well suited to the role and that mitigation strategies for these assaults lie in other areas.

However for some staff a targeted approach for skills development through performance management is needed, especially where it is clear that policy or procedures were not followed, or where a staff member’s actions have escalated a situation. This is particularly important for staff who become involved in multiple incidents. Performance development is essential to reduce the risk not only to them, but also to their colleagues if an incident escalates to something where multiple staff must intervene.

There was some evidence that both the Department and Serco are using a performance management approach in some cases. Training, advice and guidance has been offered to some staff as a result of an incident or incidents. However given the lack of formal reviews into staff assault incidents, it was difficult to determine if this is being undertaken in a systematic and thorough manner.

Page last updated: September 4, 2014