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UK Government probes effect of second-hand exposure to drugs on prison staff

By George Ryan, PA Parliamentary Reporter

The Ministry of Justice is investigating the effects of second-hand exposure to drugs on prison staff.

Justice Minister Robert Buckland told MPs that the research, which is currently limited to 10 jails, will be rolled out at more sites soon.

During Justice questions in the Commons, Conservative MP Robert Courts (Witney) asked what the Government is doing to tackle the rise of drug use in prisons.

He added: "The use of psychoactive substances is regrettably on the rise in prisons and that has an effect on behaviour."

Responding for the Government, Mr Buckland said: "The (Prisons) Service has started research into the effect of second-hand exposure of prison staff to psychoactive substances in particular across 10 prisons.

"We're going to extend that testing programme.

"We have also established a drugs taskforce because the best way to deal with this risk is to minimise drugs in prisons.

"That is a tough challenge but it is one that the whole service is working towards."

Labour MP Grahame Morris (Easington) said violence against prison staff is at a "record high".

He added: "Does the minister agree that everyone working in our prisons system, whether it's prison officers, an educator, a nurse, or anyone else, should have an absolute right to a safe workplace, safe from violent assaults?"

Mr Morris called on the Government to back union proposals to tackle violence.

Mr Buckland replied: "He is right to alert us to day-to-day bravery of prison staff in whatever part of the prison estate they work.

"There is, of course, a lot of work going on to improve the way in which prison staff interact with prisoners, and also the Assault of Emergency Workers Act that was passed earlier this year allows the courts to impose greater sentences to deal with assaults.

"I will look very carefully at the proposals that are being set out tomorrow (Wednesday) and will work with Members from across the House to ensure that we rise to the challenge of prison violence."

Labour MP Liz Twist (Blaydon) said she was concerned about the rise in sexual assaults against prison staff.

She added: "Sexual assaults against prison staff have soared by 360% since 2010, a shocking statistic that the Government should be ashamed of."

Mr Buckland said: "A lot of important work is going on with regards to the issue of body-worn cameras and indeed the roll-out of Parva spray to help protect prison officers who, let's face it, are doing such an important job that is all too often unheralded."

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