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Mental health support urgently needed for prison workers, says POA

PRISON bosses must do more to support vulnerable workers, Prison Officers’ Association (POA) members demanded today.

Employers prefer “surface-level support such as awareness weeks, mental health champions and fancy sound bites” rather than proper help, delegate Stuart Susek told the second day of the union’s 2022 conference.

Prison officers, who undertake “one of the most dangerous jobs in western Europe” according to the POA, are particularly prone to suffering from anxiety and depression, a peer-reviewed study published earlier this year in the BMC Psychiatry journal suggested. 

According to a freedom of information request by the BBC, almost 2,000 staff in the sector took mental health-related workplace leave in England and Wales in 2019, just before the coronavirus pandemic made working conditions even more challenging. 

Mr Susek, who moved a motion condemning bosses’ failure to put proper mental health support services in place, said: “Our employers pay lip service, it’s a tick-box exercise and it needs to change.”

The Moorland member said: “I’m sure many of you have seen our colleagues suffering at home and at work and what is the response we get?

“They’re removed from prison-facing duties and often put in an admin role which is seen to solve the problem.

“The nature of the work that we do means our employers should provide a robust, meaningful mental health service which is fit for the purpose of providing adequate support and helps us to live a happy and healthy life.”

Durham delegate Craig Robson said that he had never received any training to help colleagues or prisoners suffering from a mental health crisis during his 35-year career in the service.

He told members in Eastbourne’s Welcome Building about trying to support a suicidal colleague as well as an inmate who was prone to hallucinating.

“A prisoner kept telling me that the devil was coming to visit me. I told the governor, I’ve had no training.

“It’s shocking, we need to look after ourselves.”

Dave Cook from the union’s executive council backed the motion, which received near-unanimous support, saying: “The service you get is poor, it’s slowly improving, but it’s like trying to push a lorry through a lake of molasses.

“It’s far too slow for our members, for the people that we’ve lost, and for those we may lose in the future.

“Can employers be better? Absolutely.”

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