The levels of violence and drug use in some of our prisons is shockingly high. Violent prisons are dangerous for our hard-working, dedicated prison officers, and they are a danger for our whole society.

Therefore, my first priority, as prisons’ minister, is to make our prisons safe. How? First, by recruiting extra prison officers – there are now 3,500 additional officer working in our prisons than there were two years ago.

Second, we have passed a law, only last month, which doubles the maximum sentence for anyone assaulting a prison officer. And we are investing in giving our officers the training, and the support on the wings, to deal with violence.

Our best officers can often defuse almost any situation with a few sensible words, often quiet ones.

But sometimes words are not enough – particularly when prisoners have smuggled in and taken aggressive new drugs like Spice. Too often, prisoners are assaulting not only other prisoners, but also prison officers – brave public servants who work every day to protect us.

We must protect them. Which is why we are also issuing them with new equipment. We have recently issued body-worn cameras so that any violence is immediately recorded for prosecution. We have rolled out CCTV cameras across our prisons.

We are issuing “police-style” fixed handcuffs. And we are investing in intelligence to break criminal gangs, as well as new scanners to detect anyone smuggling drugs.

Today I am taking a further step and announcing that we will be giving PAVA spray (the equivalent of the pepper spray used by police) to all officers who deal with adult male prisoners.

We have done this only after serious thought. If pepper spray is used inappropriately, it can simply provoke more violence. So we have trialled it carefully in four challenging prisons. We have developed a detailed training course to make sure every officer understands how and when to use the spray – and when not to.

But the trials are already showing that pepper spray can reduce serious harm– and often as I found in Hull prison – without the officer needing to use the spray. The mere fact that an officer is wearing the cannister on their belt acts as a deterrent and can prevent incidents getting out of hand.

Of course prisons must remain an effective deterrent. But violent individuals are as much danger to other prisoners as they are to prison officers. The disorder they create prevents other prisoners from receiving the education, training and support they need to land a meaningful job, on release, and turn away from crime.

Safer prisons are vital for all of us: they will mean you, me – all of us – are less likely to become a victim of crime in the future. And 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.

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