Suffolk/Essex: Prison staffs’ inappropriate relationships with inmates

INAPPROPRIATE relationships between prison staff and current or former inmates are among the allegations behind scores of disciplinary actions taken at jails in Suffolk and Essex.

Prison staff have also been rapped for abusive language or behaviour to prisoners or fellow staff; sexual and racial harassment; assaults; and being unfit for work through drink or drugs, figures show.

The statistics - released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) following a freedom of information request by the EADT - reveal there were 76 disciplinary cases between Blundeston, Edmunds Hill, Highpoint, Hollesley Bay, Warren Hill and Chelmsford from 2009 to 2011.

The MoJ refused to give a comprehensive breakdown but their data shows at least 20 actions involved HMP Highpoint in Stradishall near Bury St Edmunds. These included an inappropriate relationship between a prison employee and a current or former inmate; four instances of abusive behaviour towards prisoners or fellow staff; and four breaches of security, one of which was deemed so serious it could have caused the escape of a prisoner.

There were at least eight misconduct hearings at Chelmsford, including two allegations of inappropriate relationships between prison staff and current or former inmates.

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But the MoJ declined to reveal what disciplinary action had been taking in light of the hearings.

The figures - the result of too few prisons officers according to the Prison Officers’ Association - comes a week after care assistant Rebecca Martin was jailed for helping prisoner Luke Sparks escape from a secure psychiatric unit at Palgrave. Ipswich Crown Court heard Martin had been in a relationship with Sparks and the plan hatched to help him escape had been a “gross breach of trust”, according to Judge Rupert Overbury.

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Glyn Travis, assistant general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association, said the union had concerns about the ratio of prison staff to prisoners.

He added: “As a result this leads to staff to be isolated and vulnerable at times and that can lead to conditioning [of prison staff] to bring drugs or mobiles in.

“As a union we want the Ministry of Justice to root out all staff who are guilty of inappropriate relationships.

“We believe the MOJ needs to look at the underlying problem in prisons - which are that staffing is too low, there are too many prisoners and inappropriate prisoners being in certain prisons.”

Commenting on inappropriate relationships between current or former inmates. Mr Travis said the situation was not helped by the move from national to local recruitment of prison staff.

A spokeswoman for Ministry of Justice said: “The vast majority of our staff are honest, hard working and do their job well. Our prisons support a culture which values integrity above all and rejects corruption and dishonesty wherever it is found.

“The National Offender Management Service is fully committed to identifying and eradicating any staff wrongdoing, and will always press for the most serious charges to be laid.”

PANEL: Psychologist’s view

Dr Clive Sims, a consultant forensic psychologist, formerly at St Clement’s Hospital, Ipswich, said: “I think it’s extraordinary because one is one side of the law and one the other.

“It’s almost certainly down to people being thrown together in a highly-intense situation over a long period of time and that friendships can obviously develop even between a prisoner and a member of disciplinary staff.

“It could be that the prisoner has a personality disorder and is trying to use the relationship explicitly for their own ends - that’s the most extreme example and also probably the most common. The other one is the straightforward - dare I mention it - love, whatever that may mean in this context.

“You have got people thrown together for long periods of time - the prisoner is there for months or years and staff are there over a long period of time and a relationship develops that goes beyond the boundaries.”

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