Prison protests: 'I've been attacked with knives'

Women prison officers

As prison officers protest over safety standards, guards and their families have told the BBC about their experiences, including fights, knife attacks, and even rape and death threats to loved ones.

One former prison officer, who served in the profession for 20 years, left for a lower paid job after he had "finally had enough" of working for a service "in decline for the last five years".

The man, who asked not to be named, said staff increasingly had to deal with the effects of Spice - a form of synthetic cannabis - "flooding" into prisons.

These included "extreme violence", he said, adding: "I have been attacked by a prisoner with an improvised knife on more than one occasion."

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The man said his family had even be threatened with rape and murder after he disrupted "prisoners' dealings", and he is now under police protection after his own life was threatened.

"All of these things were part of the job, and I expected them. I didn't work in a normal 9-5 job.

"What I did expect is a fair wage that reflected the job I did, staff numbers to be safe.

"New staff are paid a terrible wage and that is why they have not been able to replace the staff that are leaving the service on a daily basis."

'I have heart palpitations'

A female prison officer told the BBC staffing on the category B prison in south west England where she works was so low that on Saturdays and Sundays prisoners were only let out for meal times - two hours a day.

The officer, who has been in the service for 22 years, said too many experienced staff had been replaced with younger staff, who were less well paid and supported.

"I've seen new staff who have gone home in tears because they have to come back the next day," she said.

The woman, who is in her mid-40s, said she used to look forward to going to work and helping rehabilitate prisoners, but is now fearful.

"When I wake up each morning I have heart palpitations because I'm thinking 'what's going to happen today?'

"I never know what part of the prison I'll be working in or what type of prisoner I'm going to be dealing with."

'Frightened every day'

A mother of two prison officers, who is also married to an-ex officer, said there was "no duty of care" and the service was in a "terrible state".

She said she was "frightened every day" for her two sons.

"They are employing children to run these prisons and ushering out - or pushing out the back door - the people who can cope with it," said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous.

She said her son was recently involved in "four or five fights" at the prison he works in before lunchtime.

Prison officers are looking "for safety, not money" in their jobs, she added, but the profession was being negatively affected by violence, long hours and staff shortages.

"It just desperately needs sorting, desperately needs the support and to do something now before it all blows up for officers and prisoners."

Justice Secretary Liz Truss said prison officers did a "tough and difficult job", but the Prison Officers Association had failed to respond to government proposals to tackle their concerns.

Earlier this month, she unveiled a White Paper detailing £1.3bn investment in new prisons over the next five years, and plans for 2,100 extra officers, drug tests and more autonomy for governors.

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