Controversial Prison Officer Safety Equipment Rolled Out Across UK

UK Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart announced that Prison Officers across the UK will be equipped with  PAVA Incompacitant spray (synthetic pepper spray) to help keep them safe and maintain order. 

Following a successful pilot conducted by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, (HMPPS), who have made the decision to roll out nationally, a £2 million investment will ensure every prison officer in the adult male estate is equipped with PAVA – a synthetic pepper spray which temporarily incapacitates those it is sprayed upon.

PAVA can help to prevent serious harm to staff and prisoners alike, as well as being a tool to persuade prisoners in the act of violence to stop. It will be a crucial step to help reduce serious harm in prisons.

It will only be deployed in limited circumstances when there is serious violence or an imminent risk of it taking place, and where its deployment will reduce the risk of serious injury. All prison officers will receive specialist training before being allowed to carry the spray. It will be delivered in prisons where ‘keyworker’ training has already been rolled out. This will allow officers to build more positive relationships with prisoners, support their rehabilitation and manage difficult behaviour – before the need for any force is required.

This is the latest of a number of measures taken by the UK Government to protect prison officers, which include doubling the maximum sentence for those who assault them as well as rolling out body worn cameras, ‘police-style’ handcuffs and restraints. Meanwhile more than 3,500 additional officers have been recruited since October 2016.

It comes amid a wider drive to bring stability to prisons, with a £40 million investment announced over the summer to improve the prison estate and tackle the problems that drive much of the violence, including drugs and mobile phones.

This funding will allow the introduction of more airport-style body scanners, phone-blocking technology and drug-detecting dogs, and there will be a particular focus on the country’s 10 most challenging prisons.

The PAVA roll-out will start early 2019 giving time for essential training to take place first.

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said, “Prison officers’ ability to keep control of prisons, and the chaotic individuals within them, is vital to ensuring everyone’s safety. Violent individuals are as much of a danger to other prisoners as they are to prison officers. Most prisoners want to keep out of trouble and see the prison authorities given the means to keep control, so that they can focus on rehabilitation. Safer prisons means dealing effectively with a dangerous minority, while allowing more offenders into education and work and reducing the likelihood of them re-offending.”

The PAVA pilot took place at HMP Hull, Preston, Risley and Wealstun over a 6 month period, and it will now be rolled out across the adult male estate.

However, David Isaac, head of the UK’s human rights watchdog Equality and Human Rights Commission, (EHRC) has said that the pepper spray  puts inmates at risk of inhumane treatment as it could cause pain and serious injury.  He said, “We understand that prison officers need methods to protect themselves and other prisoners but such protections must not be at the expense of the basic rights of prisoners. Everyone has the right to live without fear of inhumane treatment, and the use of Pava spray in a detention environment is a way of controlling behaviour that causes pain and can seriously injure.”

“Making Pava spray available to every prison officer increases the risk that it might be used inappropriately,” Isaac said, adding that the EHRC would be asking the Prison Service again for information about the trial “so that we can assess the adequacy of the restrictions and safeguards for Pava spray’s use”.