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Pepper Spray for Prison Officers – Discussion on BBC Humberside with Yasmin Karabasic

Pepper Spray for Prison Officers- Yasmin Karabasic invited to talk to BBC Humberside following article

Last week, Yasmin Karabasic of the Prison & Public Law department, was invited to talk on BBC Radio Humberside, following an article she wrote in respect of the planned roll out of PAVA Spray in prisons.

This investment is said to cost approximately £2 million, and has considerable pressure from the POA, despite an unsuccessful pilot study, where PAVA was deployed in unjustifiable situations. Click here to read more

We are currently acted for a prisoner whom had PAVA used on him by an officer during the pilot and the information we have so far shows the officer should not have used it and has assaulted the prisoner.

BBC Radio Humberside had a discussion about the implementation of PAVA Spray in the prison estate, following a legal challenge that is being brought by a Human Rights & Equality watch dog. In the discussion, they spoke to the Prisoners Officers Association, and then also to Yasmin. Listen to what she had to say from 2:10 minutes. Please note you will need your BBC IPlayer Login details to listen to this recording.

Yasmin, one of our Prison Law Advisors, stated,

“While we totally accept that no one should work in an unsafe environment, the rollout of PAVA spray in the prison system is simply not conducive to creating the safe environment in prison everyone so desperately wants to see. The issues that surround violence within the prison system have root causes that ultimately lie with scathing funding cuts and these will only be solved by investment and the political will to solve the problem. A £2 Million pound investment could go so much further within the prison estate rather than on a solution that can only be compared to putting a small plaster on a ten inch wound.”

Yasmin also discussed the recent IMB Report which can be found here: https://s3-eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/imb-prod-storage-1ocod6bqky0vo/uploads/2019/06/IMB-NATIONAL-ANNUAL-REPORT-PUBL-5-JUNE-2019.pdf

Within this report, there are a number of worrying comments surrounding the current state of the prison system.

Yasmin says

“Within the IMB report for 2017-2018, it is noted that staffing issues dominated annual reports, and this affects every aspect of prison life: from security and safety, to rehabilitation. The staffing shortages not only affect regimes for prisoners but also undermined the capacity for positive interactions between staff and prisoners, which are pertinent to rehabilitation. This is where the proposed £2 million should be going. The objective of the prison estate is to rehabilitate offenders, so that they don’t go on to reoffend again. The situations within our prisons are dire and are not encouraging of rehabilitation. What’s more stark is that prisoners who are on remand in places like Winchester, due to serious staff shortages, are subjected to a 23 hour lock up, where they will be let out from 10-11am one day, and the 2-3pm the next day, simply because they have not got the staff. Remand prisoners are those who have not even been convicted yet.

Drugs continue to shackle prisons, and the report notes ‘drugs in prison not only have a direct impact on health and on prisoners’ erratic and sometimes violent behaviour; they also undermine safety and stability by producing an alternative power structure, based on debt, bullying and intimidation of prisoners, their families and sometimes prison staff’. Violence continue to rise in every part of the closed prison estate: from local prisons to those with the highest security, and the report also states that “Along with increases in violent behaviour, boards also reported increases in the use of force on prisoners….At Guys Marsh, the board noted that the prison itself considered the level of use of force ‘unacceptable’ and had particular concerns about the use of batons.” “The Gartree board linked increased violence to the restricted regime and the lack of staff time for both violence reduction and interaction with prisoners to build positive relationships. This seemed to be supported by a survey done at Woodhill, after violent incidents more than doubled, which showed that 19 out of 23 violent incidents in one month happened on days when there was no education on offer and activities were reduced.”

Accommodation and standard of prisons are also noted within this report. It follows.. “The picture painted in nearly all annual reports is extremely depressing, with failures, sometimes compromising health and safety, across all kinds of prison and in all areas. Four boards described conditions as ‘squalid’; others as inhumane and unfit for purpose. The Bristol board summarised this: HMP Bristol remains a run down, unhygienic, dated and shabby environment for prisoners and staff alike and not conducive to promote good behaviour, wellbeing, hope and/or rehabilitation.” It was in the news recently that HMP Lewes was failing in its special measures, and that a Dutch Court refused to extradite a prisoner to HMP Liverpool over concerns about the conditions breaching his Article 3 rights. In Exeter prison, prisoners were reduced to using buckets to flush their toilets, as they were blocked and there was waste and excrement on the floor and overflowing urinals  ‘inhumane and undignified’ and ‘degrading and insanitary’.

With all of these factors in mind, it begs the question as to why PAVA spray is talked of as the solution to violence, when it is clear that the issues are so much wider than this. It comes down to unswerving funding cuts, and our argument stands that fighting violence with violence will not solve these issues. And the fault doesn’t lie with prison officers-  they are merely trying the best they can with the resources they are given by the government, but sadly the political will is lacking and despite the public wanting so much from the prison system, no one wants to pay for it.

Dean Kingham, Head of Prison and Public Law Department, stated that:

Mark Fairhurst of the POA advocated for PAVA indicating it would only be used in ‘exceptional circumstances’, this is misleading and not evidenced by the recent pilot. If it was only to be used in ‘exceptional circumstances’ then the argument for it is better. However, the pilot trial showed it was drawn or used in 50 incidents including passive non-compliance and active self-harm. The MoJ say it should only be used when individuals are likely to cause serious harm which is serious violence.

The officers given it during the pilot must have been given proper training and guidance on when to use it, but still failed to use it only in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Officer B in the pilot study said,

“PAVA gives the people who aren’t confident that inner confidence to deal with situations maybe not in the right way”.

Mr. Fairhurst also said it should be used in the entire prison system including female prisons and open prisons. Open prisons are for prisoners whom are deemed low risk and are re-integrating into the community on day leave and overnight leave. There is no rational basis for it being rolled out in open conditions because any problematic prisoner is simply removed back to closed prisons. In respect of female prisoners the majority of women are serving for non-violent offences and have a wealth of underlying issues usually trauma. There is no evidenced need for it to be rolled out in the female estate.

Staff corruption is a very real issue. There are regular reports of officers being sacked and prosecuted for bringing drugs into prison. There was a recent employment tribunal decision against HMP Woodhill whereby officers including Governors covered up issues, undertook a show investigation and then misled the court. The claim related to how officers behaved towards a fellow prison officer.

The solution is to employ more prison officers and do more to root out corruption. The level of drug use in prison fuels violence, a lot of drugs are brought in by officers. The Government needs to invest in prisons. We know some wings of over 100 prisoners have only 4 officers patrolling them and they often sit in an office. 4 officers for 100+ prisoners is not safe. The surge in violence is due to poor governance.

The Government has announced those issued sentences under 12 months will not go to prison, reducing the prison population will help. There are other ways to reduce the prison population and to do so safely.

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