Lecturers 'still not safe in prisons'

20th July 2001 at 01:00
Two years after the Charles Bronson hostage incident at Hull prison, teaching staff are still not being trained in safety, claims a union. Steve Hook reports.

LECTURERS are still trying to negotiate for better safety in prisons more than two years after a colleague was subjected to a hostage ordeal at the hands of Charles Bronson.

Too many prison lecturers, including those working in some of Britain's toughest jails, are being denied essential safety training, according to the lecturers' union NATFHE.

The union is raising its concerns with the Health and Safety Executive, saying too little progress has been made in talks with the Home Office.

"These people who teach in prisons are highly dedicated but there is anxiety among them. They look at the Bronson incident and they say, 'that could have happened to me'. They deserve to have their anxieties addressed," said a spokeswoman for NATFHE.

Its comments came after the Home Office agreed a pound;65,000 settlement with Phil Danielson, who was subjected to a 44-hour hostage ordeal at the hands of Bronson, at Hull prison in 1999.

Judith Gledhill, of Danielson's legal firm, Thompson's, said after the award was made that she hoped the Home Office had "learnt a lesson" from the case and would "improve all aspects of health and safety" in prisons. But NATFHE claims there is little evidence that it has done so.

By settling promptly, the Home Office avoided the risk of court proceedings which could have involved judicial scrutiny into claims that Danielson himself did not get proper safety training. The Home Office denies liability.

At Hull, still a high-security prison with category A inmates, training standards remain insufficient, according to the union.

"Since February 1999 there has been no training, other than a circular on hostage-taking which has been undertaken by the prison service for education staff. New staff are not receiving the induction training which used to be a matter of course," said Roger Smith, of Hull prison's NATFHE branch.

The Home Office maintains that all civilian staff who work in contact with prisoners are supposed to attend an induction session, although it is vague about whether they should get verbal as well as written information about safety and security.

"All members of staff receive induction training, including security awareness," said a spokesman for the Home Office. "All staff in prisons are made aware of personal prison safety and hostage procedures."

NATFHE sees it differently. "The Prisons Service does seem to acknowledge that there is a problem but our concern is that too many of our members are still being left out of essential safety training in prisons," said its spokeswoman.

"We have been talking about this with the Prisons Service in the light of Bronson and other incidents, and we have also been talking to the Health and Safety Executive for about 18 months."

The concerns of some lecturers in prison classrooms were made clear when they were invited to submit evidence during a NATFHE prisons education conference last year.

One lecturer wrote: "One week we had two major assaults in classrooms, inmate on inmate, and one major assault in the classroom corridor leading to someone being hospitalised. A colleague is currently being stalked by an ex-student."

There are accounts of lecturers being left to escort prisoners to their classrooms, and an entire education block where lecturers and prisoners were left together without any supervision by uniformed staff.

Lecturers claim to have suffered "physical and mental" assault, stress, and the fear of being taken hostage.

One lecturer cited a "total lack of jailcraft training", teachers being "thrown straight into teaching in prison wings" without adequate training for the environment, and no union training rep.

At one prison , it was claimed, part-time lecturers were put at risk because they were not being issued with keys which would would enable their full-time colleagues to get to safety in an emergency.

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