Suffolk: Concerns voiced by prison officers’ union over violence in county’s jails

CLAIMS of escalating violence and a gang culture in some Suffolk prisons were made last night after it emerged police received reports of nearly 120 attacks in two years.

The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) said places such as Highpoint, near Bury St Edmunds, Hollesley Bay open prison, Warren Hill Young Offenders Institute at Hollesley, and Blundeston, near Lowestoft, were typical of the picture nationally.

The claims came after Suffolk Constabulary figures showed there were 117 reported attacks by prisoners on staff and other inmates between April 2010 and March 2012.

Nearly half of these – 55 – were said to have taken place at Warren Hill, the institution which had a prison mutiny in November 2010.

However, the total number of incidents were only the ones reported to police. It is acknowledged others may have been dealt with internally by prison authorities.

Among the injuries sustained by prison officers were a stab wound to the thigh, broken ribs, a broken nose and a fractured hand. Other staff received cuts, bruising, impaired eyesight, and neck injuries.

Prisoners suffered broken jaws, cuts, slash marks and broken noses among other injuries. In one case an inmate at Highpoint was reported to have had “half a cheek cut off” in November last year.

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In May this year a prison officer at Hollesley Bay was reported to have been attacked by an inmate, leaving him unconscious with head injuries and a broken ankle. The suspected attacker was transferred to Norwich prison.

On the same day another Hollesley Bay prisoner was convicted of an assault by Ipswich Crown Court.

Mark Bryan, 31, admitted biting an officer who he claimed was strangling him, but denied trying to gouge out another warder’s eyes.

Bryan was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment concurrent to the sentence he was already serving.

The prison officers union said it was very concerned about what it believes is a rising tide of violence.

Dean Acaster, the POA representative for East Anglia, said: “It is a massive problem and probably increasing year-on-year. These figures are no surprise to us.

“We have been constantly challenging the Ministry of Justice and Prison Service on the amount of violence in prisons.

“It seems to us there is a sort of acceptance that it is an occupational hazard.

“The problem with young people in prison is they come from a background of gang culture on the streets and that doesn’t stop when they are sentenced. They come into our establishments and the gangs carry on within them. It’s very, very difficult to challenge this behaviour.

“The problem between gangs in prisons is massive, because it is a volatile one and things can explode at any moment.”

Mr Acaster called for staff in young offender institutions to be afforded the same ability to protect themselves as those in adult jails.

He said: “The staff are not allowed to carry extendable batons that other prisons carry. They should be able to carry batons for protection of themselves and other prisoners.”

In response a Prison Service spokeswoman said: “Violence in prisons is not tolerated in any form and we take the responsibility of keeping staff, prisoners and visitors safe extremely seriously.

“That’s why we have a violence management system in place to deal with incidents quickly and robustly with serious incidents referred to the police immediately.”