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04 September 2022

How can we support Prison Officers?

The role of a prison officer can be enormously rewarding and enjoyable.  But the growing rise in violent incidents has seen many officers leave the job at increasing rates, and with many of those staying feeling the impact of workplace stress on their mental health.

Alarming Statistics: High leaving rate and mental health issues among prison officers

Workforce statistics from the Ministry of Justice, August 2022, showed

…the leaving rate among uniformed officers in bands three to five was  14.5 per cent in 2021/22, compared with 9.1 per cent the previous year.  Additionally the most common category of sickness absence in terms of days lost was mental and behavioural disorders, corresponding to 30.2% of absences in the past year.

The reality of which places additional burden on an already stretched prison service and limits the capacity to maintain a safe and secure prison.  Staffing shortages not only affect prisoner regimes, but also reduce the capacity for positive interactions between staff and prisoners.  All of which are a key part of safety and rehabilitation in prisons.

So what can be done to support officers in this very challenging and unpredictable environment?

Given the state of many prisons and the harm this is bringing to those who live and work in them, opinions differ.  Some conclude that the only way to address the problem is to drastically reduce numbers. Others argue we need tougher regimes or make it more liberal.

Coercive controls, such as lockdowns and discipline, can keep prisoners separate, but this tends to increase frustrations and resentment.  The main foundation of a safe prison is dynamic security, established through consistent personal contact between officers and prisoners, enabling prison staff to understand individual prisoners and therefore anticipate high risk situations and prevent violence.

Power of Technology

The use of technology in prisons can make a positive contribution to the safety of officers and prisoners, by freeing staff from repetitive activities and empowering prisoners to make choices themselves.

Typically, this includes examples where prisoners can control their own lighting, walk-in and out of their cells, move unescorted to attend visits or education and live in environments that allow greater levels of self-responsibility and determination.

Security and safety are maintained.  Boundaries and expectations are clear.  Prisoners are given high levels of autonomy, but they are held responsible by officers for their behaviour.

Transforming Prison Culture: How technology can drive positive change

While these are all small tasks, accumulated together they can provide an opportunity for genuine cultural change within prison.  Giving prisoners more control of their lives rather than being dependent on officers, removes several sources of frustrations from the environment.  Technologies such as these can have a positive impact on officer stress levels, improve prison efficiencies and release officers to be more involved in rehabilitation activities.

At the Lava Group we have a process and design methodology structured to give our clients a clear roadmap to implementing changes to current operations.  Our technical team listen and gather information to address efficiency, cost and functionality, with a focus on delivering a safe and secure environment for all.

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