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Hidden prison facts
New FOI releases shed light on prison staff sickness and discipline and the number of mobile phones found in our prisons.

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Freedom of Information

Well, I’ve been perusing the MoJ Freedom of Information releases again and here are three requests about prison published in July 2017 which I found of interest. I hope you do too.

Number of working days lost for stress

Our first FOI lists the numbers of working lost for Band 3-5 Prison Officers (“frontline staff”) in 2015/16 by establishment. The spreadsheet records the total nunber of working days lost set against the average number of officers in that establishment and calculates the average number of working days lost per officer per year.

Overall, these figures are pretty much as bad as you’d expect given the pressure the prison system has been under — a total of 32,092 officer days lost with every officer taking an average of 1.8 days off for stress.

As you might expect, figures vary tremendously between establishments from 0.1 day per year at HMP Bure to 9.1 days at HMP Bristol (that’s right the average officer at Bristol had nearly two weeks off with stress).

Other poor performers were Guys Marsh (7.8), Blantrye House (7.5), and Leicester (6.1).

We can only imagine that the 2016/17 figures are worse.

Mobile Phones and drugs

The second FOI reports on mobile phones and drugs found in prison over the last 4-5 years (time periods vary for different stats).

As you can see, the number of phones found each month has more than doubled from about 400 to 800 over the time period from April 2013 (318) to December 2016 (799). A total of 23,658 phones were found over this time period ranging from none at all at eight establishments to 1007 at HMP Altcourse who are either the best searchers in the estate or have the biggest problem or (more likely) are good searchers with a big problem.

A total of 362 mobile phones were brought into prison by staff over this period although this number “includes incidents where staff have found a phone and brought it into the prison for reporting. It also includes incidents where staff have accidentally brought in their phones into the prison.”

There were also 48 recorded incidents of drugs being brought in by staff in the five year period 2012-2016 inclusive with 32 of these incidents in 2016, although again this number “includes incidents where a member of staff found the drug and brought it into the prison for reporting.”

Staff discipline

The final FOI provides information on the total number of prison staff investigated for misconduct, by year, since 2012, broken down by type of misconduct. The total numbers show a drop over the four year period recorded:

A full breakdown of investigation categories (remember these are investigations not proven cases) is provided in the FOI. You can see that breaches of security and performance of duties are the most common.

Also noteworthy to me are:

  • Assault/unnecessary use of force on prisoners                567 over 4 year period
  • Assault on staff                                                                           51 over 4 year period
  • Criminal conviction                                                                  110 over 4 year period
  • Fraud                                                                                             163 over 4 year period
  • Inappropriate relationship with prisoner/ex-prisoner  133 over 4 year period
  • Racial harassment                                                                      111 over 4 year period
  • Sexual harassment/assault                                                      90 over 4 year period
  • Trafficking                                                                                    44 over 4 year period

Although these figures are of interest, it is important to remember that there are over 15,000 prison officers and that most public and no private services are forced to wash this sort of dirty linen in public, so we have no way of comparing standards of behaviour across organisations. That said, it is always important to have some line of sight into what happens within prison walls.


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2 Responses

  1. It is worth remembering that the number of prison officers fell quite sharply over the period and that therefore the proportion of staff investigated for discipline breaches is likely to be more or less unchanged even though the headline figures have reduced.

    We need to be careful not to be critical of prisons for searching effectively for illicit items like mobile phones and drugs. As a prison manager my biggest concerns were about prisons which didn’t think they had a problem because their security and searching systems were ineffective

  2. Thanks Phil. You’re absolutely right about the proportion of disciplinary actions remaining constant – I’ve no idea whether the current staffing crisis encourages managers to disregard less serious “offences.” As you say, and I say in the post, it is difficult to interpret security stats as the more you search, the more you find… Benchmarks are always of some value, though, provided they are treated with caution

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