01:56, October 09 274 0 theguardian.com

2018-10-09 01:56:06
Prison officers to be given pepper spray

Prison officers are to be armed with synthetic pepper spray in a bid to combat violence in jails, the prisons minister Rory Stewart has said.

The incapacitant spray, known as Pava, has been trialled in four prisons and will be rolled out at all jails that house male prisoners, Stewart said.

The news comes ahead of a speech by Andrea Albutt, the president of the Prison Governors Association (PGA), in which she is expected to accuse the government of failing to respond quickly enough to the jail safety crisis.

Speaking to the Sun, Stewart said trials of the Pava spray had shown positive results without the officer needing to use the spray.

“The mere fact that an officer is wearing the canister on their belt acts as a deterrent and can prevent incidents getting out of hand”, he said.

He added that the decision to arm prison officers with the spray had come following “serious thought” and that safer prisons “are vital for all of us”.

“Our prison officers are doing one of the most important and heroic jobs in our society. We must give them the means to do their job.”

The prisons system has been under intense scrutiny after levels of violence, self-harm and drug use behind bars surged.

At the PGA’s annual conference Albutt will paint a bleak picture of the state of jails, pointing to “horrendous” quarterly statistics on violence.

She is expected to say: “We have crumbling prisons and an inability to give a safe, decent and secure regime to large numbers of men and women in our care due to lack of staff, not fit for purpose contracts and a much more violent, disrespectful, gang and drug affiliated population.”

The justice ministry said it acknowledged the challenges prison officers faced and had taken meaningful action to address them.