1. ITV Report

Prison officers to be armed with synthetic pepper spray

Prison officers are to be given canisters of synthetic pepper spray in a bid to combat violence in jails, Prisons Minister Rory Stewart has said.

The incapacitant PAVA spray has been trialled in four prisons, and will now be rolled out at all jails which house male prisoners, he said.

The news comes ahead of a speech by Andrea Albutt, president of the Prison Governors Association (PGA), in which she is expected to accuse the Government of failing to respond quickly enough to the jail safety crisis.

Speaking to the Sun, Mr Stewart said trials of the PAVA spray had already shown positive results, without the officer needing to use the spray.

prisons minister Rory Stewart, who has pledged to resign if his campaign to tackle violence and drugs in struggling jails fails. Credit: PA

"The mere fact that an officer is wearing the canister on their belt acts as a deterrent and can prevent incidents getting out of hand," he said.

He added the decision to arm prison officers with the spray had come following "serious thought", but safer prisons "are vital for all of us".

He said: "Our prison officers are doing one of the most important and heroic jobs in our society. We must give them the means to do their job."

The prisons system has been under intense scrutiny after levels of violence, self-harm and drug use behind bars surged.

At the PGA’s annual conference on Tuesday, Ms Albutt will paint a bleak picture of the state of jails, pointing to "horrendous" quarterly statistics on violence.

She is expected to say: "We have crumbling prisons and an inability to give a safe, decent and secure regime to large numbers of men and women in our care due to lack of staff, not fit for purpose contracts and a much more violent, disrespectful, gang and drug affiliated population."

The Ministry Of Justice said it acknowledged the challenges prison officers faced, and it had taken meaningful action to address them.

The Ministry Of Justice said it acknowledged the challenges prison officers faced. Credit: PA

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said: "Violence in our prisons has spiralled out of control following the Conservatives’ decision to axe thousands of prison officers and slash hundreds of millions of pounds from prison budgets.

"New equipment alone can’t solve this prisons crisis, especially when there are still over 3,000 fewer prison officers than when the Conservatives came to office.

"The Government needs to stop tinkering around the edges, and instead use this month’s Budget to launch an emergency plan with substantial new Treasury funds to tackle the widespread under-staffing and overcrowding that has made our prisons a danger to the officers, inmates and wider society."