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Notorious Prisoner, Charles Bronson, cleared by jury of attacking a prison governor as violence against prison staff soars by 27%

20 November 2018

Bronson, who is known for violence against prison staff and taking hostages, was alleged to have punched, scratched and threatened to kill the acting deputy Governor of HMP Wakefield in January 2018.

Following a four-day trial, during which he represented himself, Jurors found Bronson not guilty of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm with intent, despite his past history of violence against Prison staff.

Although the allegations against Bronson were dismissed, this case highlights the on-going problem of soaring levels of violence by inmates against staff in Prisons across England and Wales.

According to a recent Ministry of Justice report, the number of assaults on Prison staff members rose to 9,485 in twelve months, a huge increase of 27% since the previous report in June 2017. Of those, 947 were ‘serious,’ requiring medical treatment or resulting in fractures, burns, or extensive bruising. Further recent figures show that a third of Prison officers leave the service within a year of starting, and the total number of Prison officers resigning from their jobs has more than doubled in the past 12 months.

It is thought that cuts to Prison budgets, staffing levels, overcrowding and drug use are contributing factors to the increased level of Prison violence.

Earlier this year, Prison staff embarked on a mass walkout under the instruction of the Prison Officers Association ("POA"), the trade union for Prison staff, over the unprecedented levels of violence.

The POA, which has over 20,000 members, decided to take industrial action after the government was issued an official warning over the deteriorating Prisons for the fourth time in nine months.

However, the protest was called off by the POA following an agreement with the government minister to address the POA's concerns, and the threat of legal action against the Union for alleged breaches of an injunction restraining the POA from inducing Prison Officers to take part in industrial action.

Under the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, the POA is banned from calling for strike action. In July last year, following POA protests at HMP Lindholme in November 2016, the High Court granted a permanent injunction restraining the POA from inducing officers to take part in “any industrial action" [Secretary of State for Justice v Prison Officers Association [2018] EWHC 2897 (QB); [2018] 10 WLUK 271]. The interim injunction was made permanent by the High Court in the interests of maintaining the status quo and safe operation of the Prison.

The failed prosecution of Bronson will understandably be frustrating for the POA and its members. However, irrespective of the outcome in this particular case, it has further highlighted the very real problems faced by Prison staff and serves as a timely reminder that Prison staff remain vulnerable to attack in fulfilling their duty.

The Government are working alongside the POA in order to address these issues, doubling the Prison sentence for Prisoners who attack officers, increasing pay, and investing in security tools such as body-worn cameras to deter attacks. They also intend to fund initiatives to tackle drug problems in prisons, specifically the recent epidemic influx of 'spice', a synthetic cannabinoid, which is thought to be fuelling much of the violence. Considering the speed in which the levels of violence against staff are soaring it is clear that prison staff will be hoping for swift results.

 

Further Reading