A prison officer claims coronavirus restrictions are behind the number of assaults on staff doubling at one Devon jail.
The officer, who wanted to remain anonymous, said violence was ‘escalating’ at HMP Dartmoor in Princetown.
Figures show the number of assaults on staff doubled from six to 12 in the six months after restrictions were put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19.
In the six months from March, the prison saw 12 assaults on staff, four of which were considered ‘serious’, compared to six non-serious assaults in the previous six months.
“This year, due to the pandemic and exasperating emotions among prisoners, we’ve had more violence than what we’ve had at Dartmoor for many years,” the officer told the BBC.
“Earlier in the year we had a prisoner punch a member of staff in the nose and attack another three officers, one of them being female, who he struck in the face.
“Just in the last couple of weeks we had some prisoners fighting on a wing, an officer tried to break it up, and he was rendered unconscious. It really is escalating.”
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A report into the category C prison – which can hold around 640 inmates – said violence between prisoners had gone down.
Statistics from the Prison Service show that assaults on staff in England and Wales actually fell by 17 per cent between the first three months of the year and April to the end of June.
However, annual figures do also show a 242 per cent increase in attacks on officers between 2012 and 2018, from 2,987 to 10,203.
It added that an ongoing ‘planning blight’ was affecting the running of the facility after being handed a closure notice in 2013, meaning a number of buildings were in need of repair.
Morale was low too, the report added.
Regarding the safety of staff members, a Prisons Service spokesperson said: “We are investing £2.75 billion to improve prisons and increase security, and giving staff body-worn cameras, police-style restraints and PAVA spray to allow them to do their jobs more safely.
“Violence against our hardworking staff will never be tolerated and we will always push for the strongest possible punishment.”
The Prison Officers Association said fewer than 30 officers were regularly monitoring more than 600 prisoners at Dartmoor.
“It never seems enough, it just feels so unsafe and we’re just having pressure put on us all the time from our managers to get the prisoners out when it feels like we shouldn’t be,” the officer said.
The Prisons Service added that the Government is investing a further £100 million will also bolster prison security, clamping down on the weapons, drugs and mobile phones that fuel violence, self-harm and crime behind bars. An additional £156 million will tackle pressing maintenance issues
This is on top of the extra £70 million spent across the estate to fund safety, decency and security improvements, including airport-security style scanners, phone-blocking technology, enhanced perimeter searches and more drug detection dogs.
In 2018, the maximum penalty for common assault was doubled to 12 months when it was committed against an emergency worker.