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On the 16th May 2017, the ‘European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions’ published a brief article on the safety of prison officers, stating: “Thousands of prison officers across England and Wales began a 24-hour day of protest on 15 November 2016 over health and safety concerns, after negotiations with the government.”
Two months later, the United States National Institute of Justice published Frank Valentino Ferdik’s (University of West Florida) and Hayden P. Smith’s (University of South Carolina) article on “Correctional Officer Safety and Wellness Literature Synthesis”. Following a comprehensive research project, both gentlemen concluded: “The health and safety concerns of correctional officers have been largely neglected by the correctional researchers, administrative officials, and prison systems.”
My key objective is to not allow this to happen in the future, and to raise awareness about the important role PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) can play, and how such equipment can successfully help improving the personal safety of prison and correctional officers around the world.
PPE is saving lives every single day, especially in environments where the risk of edged weapon, hypodermic needles and blunt force trauma injuries are real, and where situations can escalate in a blink of an eye, often without any noticeable warning sign.
We must accept that we simply cannot change the aggressive behaviour of those individual prisoners who absolutely refuse to turn their life around. In addition, we also have to accept that there is simply no doubt that a prisoner consuming drugs, illegal substances, or self-made alcohol can become hostile and violent within a split second, regardless of the prison or correctional officer’s excellent communication skill, calm personality and willingness to empathise with the prisoner.
An officer in such institution often is the bearer of bad news. The officer might be required to inform the prisoner of any disciplinary, restriction of privileges, family bad news, cancellation of visits, or of the news that his/her cell will be searched, all of which can, of course, create all sorts of physical reactions.
We also need to remind ourselves that prisoners have got plenty of time on hand to develop vicious weapon to carry out acts of aggression. The ideas to create shift weapons, e.g. sharpened table and bed frame legs, shanks made out of plastic, mirrors or porcelain, and the idea of melting razor blades into tooth brushes and turning pens, pencils and nails into ‘spiked weapons’ have not been developed out of five minutes of simple boredom.
The men and women who have made the professional choice to look after those individuals must, above all, have the moral right to be equipped appropriately. If we genuinely want to reduce the risk of injuries and ‘loss of life’, then their safety must become our priority, and operationally sound PPE must be considered very carefully moving forward.