Who cares? We do! – July 2013
Looking after people who have additional support needs can be a challenge for prison officers. The question of social care in prisons is getting more attention and there is an ongoing debate about what should happen. Social care covers a number of different types of support.
Looking after people who have additional support needs can be a challenge for prison officers. The question of social care in prisons is getting more attention and there is an ongoing debate about what should happen. Social care covers a number of different types of support. It can be support with daily living, such as helping someone with getting around, getting dressed or with meals. In the community, social care services can also cover activities in day centres, training and help with basic education, advocacy and support with life skills.
As more and more people are growing older in prison, more people will need social care support during their sentence. The prison service is also becoming more aware of the needs of people who have a long term serious mental health condition or a learning disability or physical disability. The prison service has duties to care for these people and sometimes provide additional support.
The prison service is struggling to meet some of these needs. One of the difficulties is that the law is not clear. In the community, if someone has social care needs, the local council (usually through social services department) is responsible for meeting these needs. In prison, it tends to be a mixture of departmentsthe prison staff, health care team, charities and sometimes (but not very often) local councils.
Some things that someone might need in the community – for instance meals on wheels – won’t be needed in a prison, because the prison will provide food anyway. However, prisons are not able to provide everything that a social services department could and it is not fair to expect prison officers to be social workers.
The important question is – what should staff working for the prison service cover? How much is it reasonable for a prison officer to do? If a prisoner is having difficulties getting around or carrying something it might be reasonable for the prison officer to help someone carry their food to their cell. However, it won’t be reasonable to expect a prison officer to help someone to shower. It is important that social care needs are met and people in prison are not neglected.
The government is looking at this and has drafted new rules. These are not law yet and it will be some time (probably two years) before they become law. If they do become law, social services will have some responsibility for making sure people are supported in prisons. It will be useful for prison staff to know what is expected of them. Ideally, there should be ‘thresholds’ so that people know at what level prison staff offer support and when social services get involved.
from insidetime issue July 2013