Does the prison service have a responsibility to keep me safe in prison?
The prison service has a common law duty of care to protect those in their custody from foreseeable injury and harm, including from abuse and neglect.
This means that prisons must have processes to create and maintain an environment where prisoners in their care are safe.
Keeping you safe from abuse and neglect is also called safeguarding.
Under the Prison Service Instruction on Adult Safeguarding (PSI16/2015), Governors are required to have systems in place to protect prisoners from abuse and neglect and to facilitate reporting and investigation of any suspected incidents.
The prison’s duty of care is reinforced by Human Rights law. Article 2 of the Human Rights Act protects your right to life.
The Equality and Human Right Commission explains Article 2:
‘It means the Government should take appropriate measures to safeguard life by making laws to protect you and, in some circumstances, by taking steps to protect you if your life is at risk.
Public authorities should also consider your right to life when making decisions that might put you in danger or that affect your life expectancy.’
What harm or injury does the prison have to protect me from?
There are different types of harm that an adult in prison may experience and can expect the prison to prevent or minimise.
The following types of harm are included in the Care Act 2014, which prison staff will be aware of:
- Physical – includes hitting, slapping, pushing, kicking, restraint, and misuse of medication. It can also include inappropriate or unlawful sanctions.
- Sexual – includes rape, indecent exposure, sexual harassment, inappropriate looking or touching, sexual teasing or innuendo, indecent exposure and sexual assault, or sexual acts to which the adult has not consented or was pressured into consenting.
- Emotional or Psychological – includes threats of harm, humiliation, intimidation, coercion, harassment, verbal abuse, isolation, or withdrawal from services or supportive networks.
- Financial or Material – includes theft, fraud, and coercion in relation to an adult’s financial affairs or arrangements.
- Discriminatory – abuse that centres on a difference or perceived difference, particularly with respect to race, gender, disability, or any of the protected characteristics of the Equality Act.
- Neglect and Acts of Omission – includes ignoring medical or physical care needs and failing to provide access to appropriate health social care or educational services. It also includes the withdrawing of the necessities of life, including medication, adequate nutrition, and heating.
- Self-neglect – this covers a wide range of behaviour, but it can be broadly defined as neglecting to care for one’s personal hygiene, health, or surroundings. An example of self-neglect is behaviour such as hoarding.
Who to speak to if you do not feel safe
All staff have a responsibility for your safety. You can speak to any member of staff if you have concerns that you are at risk from others or if you are having thoughts about harming yourself. For example, you could speak to staff on your wing, to your key worker, your Prison Offender Manager (POM) or healthcare staff.
Safety Team / Safer Custody
The Safety Team (also called Safer Custody or Safer Prisons Team in some prisons) has a responsibility to identify and support prisoners who are at risk of harm to themselves, to others, and from others.
You can ask to speak to a member of the Safety Team if you are worried for your safety. You can do this by speaking to staff on your wing or by using a standard application form.
The Samaritans helpline is available 24 hours a day. When you call the Samaritans, a volunteer will listen to you and help you talk through your worries, whatever they may be.
You can call the Samaritans for free, on 0845 450 7797 from prisons in England and Wales, or 08457 90 90 90 from prisons in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Some prisons can give you Samaritans phones which are specifically for calling Samaritans.
You can also write to the Samaritans and you will receive a written reply. To do this just write ‘Freepost Samaritans Letters’ on an envelope.
Listeners are prisoners who are trained by the Samaritans to listen to you and offer confidential, emotional support in the same way that Samaritans volunteers do for people outside of prisons.
Listeners will support you in private and details of the conversation aren’t shared with prison staff. To speak to a Listener, you can ring your cell bell and ask an officer or look for someone wearing a Listener t-shirt. The Listener scheme operates in almost all prisons across the UK.
The chaplaincy team is a team of people from different faiths who are there to help you practice your faith and provide pastoral care.
Family and friends
Some people get support from family and friends to help them feel safe. Our information sheet about keeping in contact with family and friends contains more information about ways you can do this.
If contact with a family member or a friend is an important part of your support it may be useful to let people like your keyworker, your POM and Safety Team staff know this so they can consider this in your overall support.
Crime in Prison Single Point of Contact / Police Liaison Officer
If you think a crime has been committed against you, you can report it to the police.
If you want to report a crime you can ask to speak to the ‘Crime in Prison Single Point of Contact’ (SPOC). This person is responsible for referring crimes to the police. Given that the matter may be sensitive, you may wish to submit the request using a confidential access complaint (COMP 2) form. These forms should be readily available with the other forms, along with envelopes to seal them in.
The prison will have an arrangement with the local police force about how crimes in prison should be reported. For example, some police forces have a dedicated ‘Prison Investigation Team’ who will investigate crimes referred to them whereas other prisons report via 101 along with other crimes reported in that area. Some prisons have a ‘Police Liaison Officer’ (PLO) which is a police officer allocated to the prison.
Prisons only have to report serious crimes to the police and can consider others on a case by case basis. If the prison does not help you make a report, you can:
- Ask a friend or family member to report the incident to the police on your behalf.
- Write directly to a local police force.
- Write a letter to the Prison Group Director’s office who should then facilitate the referral – this is an option if you do not wish the prison staff working directly within the prison to be involved.
Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork (ACCT)
ACCT is a process used in prisons to support people at risk of self-harm and suicide.
ACCT support is overseen by a Case Coordinator. They will be allocated to you to arrange and run case reviews involving people who can support you and provide you with the care you need.
Opening an ACCT
An ACCT can be opened by any member of staff if they think you may be at risk of self-harm or suicide.
This could be because of things you have said, your behaviour, concerns raised by friends and family, or concerns raised by staff or other external organisations.
An ACCT assessment must be completed within 24 hours of the ACCT being opened.
An ACCT assessment includes talking to you about how you are feeling, your past experiences, how you behave when you feel certain ways, if there are specific things that trigger those feelings and things that you find supportive when you are feeling this way.
The assessment will be used to help staff identify what to talk to you about at the first case review and to then make a plan for how you can be supported.
ACCT case reviews
If you are on an ACCT, the first case review must be within 25 hours of the ACCT document being opened. There should then be regular ACCT case reviews.
You must be allocated a Case Coordinator. They must not be the same person who completed your ACCT assessment.
It’s important that you are involved in decisions about your care so you should attend case reviews unless you are not willing or unable to.
Healthcare staff must always be invited to attend the first case review and any case reviews after this where they are relevant to your support. If they are unable to attend, they can provide a written contribution.
Other staff members relevant to your support should also attend case reviews. This includes any staff you are specifically supported by, or have an ongoing and positive relationship with, or that you have requested to be present.
During ACCT case reviews staff will:
- Ask you what support you feel you need.
- Decide on and review actions to support you and reduce the risk
- Decide on appropriate levels of observations and conversations that will be undertaken to support you.
- Consider location and whether any possessions need to be removed or returned.
When you are on an ACCT staff will complete an Ongoing Record form and keep this within your ACCT document. The Ongoing Record must be completed daily and include details of the observations and conversations the last case review.
Your ACCT document should go with you to any activities outside of the wing/unit where you are located. It is up to staff to make sure this happens.
Closing an ACCT
During ACCT case reviews, if staff think that your risk of harm has been reduced enough and you have support in place to help you cope, they can decide to close the ACCT.
The decision must be explained to you, and the Case Coordinator should check you understand why this decision has been made and what it means.
Post-closure monitoring and review
After the closure of an ACCT, staff must check on you and keep records of how you are for a minimum of 7 days.
A post-closure review must then take place with your Case Coordinator. They will review your progress made since the ACCT was closed.
During the post-closure review, your Case Coordinator will consider:
- Your current feelings
- The access to support that you have available to you
- Progress since closure
Staff will then decide whether there needs to be any further post-closure reviews, or whether ACCT support can stop completely.
Reopening an ACCT
An ACCT document can be re-opened at any point during and up until 6 weeks after the initial decision to close the ACCT at your final case review. If more than 6 weeks has passed, then a new ACCT document will need to be opened.
There is more information about the ACCT process in PSI 64/2011 Management of prisoners at risk of harm to self, to others and from others (Safer Custody), particularly within the Annex about ACCT.
Observations and conversations
When being supported by ACCT it is likely that staff will carry out regular observations on you to check on your welfare and to help keep you safe.
There is no set approach or recommended level of observations and conversations as this will depend on individual circumstances.
PSI 64/2011 says that observations should be carried out at irregular intervals (e.g., not at the same time(s) every hour) so as not to be predictable. Observations should be carried out in the least obtrusive manner possible. This is particularly important at night because sleep is important for wellbeing.
Conversations provide an opportunity for staff to talk to you on a daily basis, giving you the chance to talk about any issues that are worrying you.
If staff think you are at serious risk of harming yourself or you are displaying other behaviours which could lead to you accidentally or intentionally killing yourself, they may decide constant supervision is necessary.
Constant supervision is a period of one-to-one observation of you by a member of staff. This must only be in place for the shortest time possible and used as a last resort to reduce this risk and intervene in the case of an emergency.
If you are refusing food, it is not considered to be a form of self-harm, but the ACCT process may be used to record the care offered.
The Department of Health publication, Guidelines for the Clinical management for people refusing food in Immigration Removal Centres and Prisons, gives guidance to prisons on managing prisoners who may be refusing food and/or fluids.
Keeping you safe from others
If you feel unsafe, for example if someone is threatening you, hurting you or being violent to you, speak to any member of prison staff straight away.
It can be difficult for staff to make decisions about the risk posed to you if you do not tell them who that risk is from. If you do not feel safe to share this information, try to explain why this is. Staff should act in a way that does not increase the risk to you.
If you think the prison staff have failed to keep you safe, you can make a complaint.
If the prison was aware of the risk to you and failed to take appropriate actions to protect you, you may be able to make a negligence claim – it is worth speaking to a legal adviser about this first.
Below are some of the things staff could consider to help keep you safe.
Under Prison Rule 45 (YOI Rule 49) you can be placed in segregation for your own interests/own protection.
Segregation is when you are kept apart from other prisoners, in a separate part of the prison called the segregation unit or segregation wing.
Segregation must be reviewed regularly and must only continue for as long as is necessary. Our information sheet about Segregation goes into more detail about this.
Vulnerable Prisoner Units (VPUs)
Some prisons have Vulnerable Prisoner Units (VPUs). This is a unit or a wing where some prisoners stay if the prison believes they are at risk from others.
VPU is not the same as segregation.
Not all prisons have a VPU, so it may be necessary to transfer you to another prison if this is the most appropriate option.
If staff think there is a risk to you from another prisoner or prisoners, they may decide that it is necessary to keep you apart from them. This is called ‘non-association’.
This might mean you are held in different parts of the same prison and are kept separate when you access different parts of the regime such as education or work.
It might mean being transferred to a different prison away from those who are considered a risk.
Information about people you should be kept apart from will be recorded on the prison database. This will help staff when they are deciding where someone could be moved. This information can be accessed by other prisons when you are transferred.
Staff may decide that transferring you to another prison is the best way to reduce the risk to you.
Tell staff what you think about this option – for example, if you are concerned that a transfer far from home would make visits from family difficult.
Other steps prisons should take to keep people safe
Cell sharing risk assessment
A cell sharing risk assessment (CSRA) is used to identify prisoners at risk of seriously harming someone they share a cell with.
PSI 20/2015 states that ‘every prisoner held in closed conditions must have an up-to-date Cell Sharing Risk Assessment, even where there is no shared accommodation’.
The PSI describes two risk categories:
- A HIGH RISK prisoner is one for whom there is a clear indication (from evidence) of a high level of risk that they may be severely violent to a cell mate, or that a cell mate may be severely violent to them.
- A STANDARD RISK prisoner is one for whom, based on the evidence available, there is no immediate risk of severe cell violence.
The CSRA does not cover the need for someone to be in a single cell for healthcare reasons. If healthcare staff think you need a single cell they must make a note of this on your records and advise residential staff.
Risk from staff
Keeping you safe from harm, abuse or neglect from others includes from staff.
If you believe you are at risk of harm or abuse from staff, you should let someone know. You could do this in the following ways:
- Ask to speak to someone in the Safety Team.
- Speak to a member of staff that you do trust and explain that you would like the information handled sensitively.
- Use a confidential access complaint (COMP2) form addressed to the Governor or to the Prison Group Director. You can ask for them to make sure you are safeguarded and investigate the person(s) involved.
- Ask to speak to the Local Counter Corruption Managers (LCCM) – this is a member of prison staff responsible for identifying and dealing with staff corruption and wrongdoing.
- Speak to someone from the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB)
- If you think a crime has been committed, you could report it to the police. See information on page 3 about how to do this.
Use of force
Prison staff are allowed to use force against you in some circumstances.
Prison Service Order (PSO) 1600 Use of Force contains details about when and how force should be used.
The PSO states:
The use of force by one person on another without consent is unlawful unless it is justified.
The use of force will be justified, and therefore lawful, only:
- If it is reasonable in the circumstances
- If it is necessary
- If no more force than is necessary is used
- If it is proportionate to the seriousness of the circumstances
You can make a complaint if you think force used against you was not justified.
There is more detail in our Use of Force information sheet, and in PSO 1600 Use of Force.
Isolation is when someone withdraws from the prison regime. This may include having limited contact with staff or other prisoners. It may mean they spend most of the day in their cell.
People sometimes isolate themselves when they are finding it difficult to cope or if believe they are at risk from others.
If you feel the need to isolate or withdraw for any reason, we advise seeking support from staff to see if there are other ways to deal with how you feel. It is important to be aware that long-term isolation can increase the risk of mental health problems, depression, and poor health.
All staff are responsible for identifying and supporting people who are isolating. Prison staff should do all they can to assess risk effectively when a person is isolating and provide appropriate support to manage any identified risk.
Regular attempts by staff to talk to prisoners should take place to support and assess the current issues that may be leading to isolation.
In some cases, prison staff will support people who are isolating by providing access to things like meals and showers separately.
However, if staff do not agree that there is a risk to you then they may not facilitate access to the prison regime in this way. If you do not think staff are taking your concerns seriously, you could make a formal complaint and request that they review this. You could try speaking to some of the people listed above if you have not already done so.
If you are isolating, staff should still talk to you and encourage you to take part in the regime.
Support after an incident
The prison should offer you an appropriate level of support if you are involved in an incident. This includes if:
- You have harmed yourself
- You are witness to or affected by self-harm of another person
- You are the victim of violence
- You are affected by someone else dying in the prison.
If you have been affected by an incident like these or any other reasons and think that you need some support, let staff know. Please see above for a list of people you could speak to about this.
Challenge, Support, and Intervention Plan (CSIP)
CSIP is a process used in prisons to support and manage prisoners who pose an increased risk of being violent. It is aimed at supporting those individuals who are considered to pose a raised risk of harming others through their behaviour in custody.
All prison staff should be aware of and be able to spot the signs that suggest someone poses an increased risk of being violent. Supporting and managing people who consistently display this behaviour can help to reduce violence in prisons
CSIP can be used ‘proactively’ (before a violent incident occurs) as well as ‘reactively’ (in response to a violent incident), to help prevent and reduce the likelihood of future violence.
If you are placed on a CSIP you will be allocated a case manager, who will work with you to understand reasons behind your behaviour and how you could be supported to manage your own behaviour in a more positive way that does not involve violence. A plan will then be developed based around what support you might need to achieve this.
The process aims to be collaborative and supportive and will involve discussions with you and others involved in your care. You will be encouraged to identify targets that are meaningful to you, and to identify actions you can take to meet those targets.
Being on a CSIP is not a punishment, it is intended to help you work with staff to identify what support you might need to reach your goals in a non-violent way.
Your case manager will meet with you regularly to review your progress and support. If there is agreement that you have met your targets and expectations, and that no further support is needed, your plan will then close.
The following may be of interest to you. If you are unable to access them elsewhere feel free to contact our Advice and Information Service and we will be happy to send you a copy.
Useful policy documents:
- PSI 16/2015 Adult Safeguarding
- PSI 64/2011 Management of prisoners at risk of harm to self, to others and from others (Safer Custody)
- Annex to PSI 64/2011 (ACCT)
- PSI 20/2015 The Cell Sharing Risk Assessment
- Prison Service Order (PSO) 1600 Use of Force
- PSI 30/2015 Amendments to Use of Force Policy
- Prisoner Complaints Policy Framework
- Counter Corruption and Reporting Wrongdoing Policy Framework
PRT information sheets
- How to make a complaint in prison
- Your health in prison
- People who can help in prison
- Keeping in contact with family and friends
- Use of force