Two prison officers have spoken to the Victoria Derbyshire programme about the reality of working inside prisons in England and Wales in order, they say, to expose the problems the service is facing. Their identities have been changed.
Alan worked for two years in a privately run prison before leaving last year.
“Officers are being assaulted, punched, boiling water poured in their faces – on a regular basis.
“I was punched, then excrement thrown in my face. He’d basically put excrement in a bag, he ran up behind me and shoved it in my face. Eyes, nose, mouth.
“It was the worst feeling in the world, we don’t know their medical records, I didn’t know if he had HIV or hepatitis, which is all carried by human waste. The next day I was in the local hospital waiting for all the tests to see if I had contracted anything.
“In my opinion you’ve seen nothing yet. It’s going to boil over very soon.”
‘It never goes away’
Peter has worked for more than 20 years in the service.
“Today I was on a shift, before I left we had a member of staff who ended up with a broken nose, a potential broken wrist and a potential broken finger.
“I’ve been on the end of a bad experience, a few years back, and that still lives with me. It never goes away. We attended a cell with two prisoners in it. We were dealing with their issues when they assaulted us. They used the leg of a metal chair to assault myself and my colleagues.
“There was a mass brawl on the floor, you don’t know what or who is connected to who or what. And you try to do your best at that moment in time. I’d done some internal damage to my shoulder and required a couple of operations.
“It’s only a matter of time before something massive goes off and either lots of prisoners will get hurt or lots of prison officers will get hurt. It will get to the stage where a prison officer will get killed on duty.”
Alan: “When I started, this drug known as spice, you’d have an incident a week, maybe two, very rare. But just before I left, you’d have three or four a day. Regular, regular, ambulances called to deal with a spice attack. We just couldn’t control it, it literally got out of hand.”
Peter: “Prisoners are specifically now going out and doing a crime to be recalled as they can earn more money coming in with drugs, mobiles and Sim cards. That never happened 20 years ago.”
Alan: “They [the prisoners] spoke openly about friends and gang members getting caught for petty crimes, receiving two-year sentences, because they know when they get in there’s quite a strong drug feed. They were talking about making several thousand pounds a month through selling drugs in prison.”
Peter: “I was joining a service I was proud to join. Twenty years ago, you had time with prisoners. Time to engage, time to help them try and see that their actions were wrong. But now we haven’t got the staff, we haven’t got the time and we have prisoners who don’t really care about changing their lives.”
Alan: “After the training – eight or nine weeks in total, you’re on the wings and that’s it. There’s a massive sick rate and they’re struggling to cover the wings. There were times, and I certainly wasn’t on my own, when you were left to lock 64 prisoners behind the doors.
“I’ve seen it first hand where a prisoner has attacked another prisoner with a razor blade over a packet of tobacco. If you’re on your own and you see something like that, which we did, you could be trying to split 15 to 20 blokes up.”
Peter: “We’re getting officers who are 20, 21 years of age, what experience have they got of life? And they’re telling a 40, 50-year-old to go behind the door, who’s probably done 10 years already. There’s no respect, no authority and no discipline.”
Alan: “I used to wake up in the morning and feel physically sick. When you’ve got a prisoner, he’s threatening to rip your head off, he’s going to stab you, he’s going to get your kid shot, your missus shot, you don’t know his capabilities.”
Peter: “I hate it. And I just hope that at end of day I come away in one piece.”
“I didn’t drink before. But I drink most days just to get through. When I’m on holiday, I’m fine. [I drink] a lot, too much. Probably a bottle of spirits a night. Then we get up in the morning and pretend nothing is wrong as we have to put on a front.”
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said it was “committed to building on the essential reforms that are already under way to make prisons places of safety and reform.
“In November last year, we announced a major overhaul of the prison system, including 2,500 extra front-line officers and new measures to tackle violence, drugs and mobile phones,” she added.
Watch the Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel.
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