HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) has come under scrutiny in recent months, with reports of staff feeling intimidated, harassed and unsupported to raise concerns, in addition to escalating reports of dangerous activity and unrest in prison populations. A parliamentary debate in March 2020 on Prison Staff: Health and Safety highlighted many of these issues.
The Ministry of Justice Integrity “Hotline”, where staff can raise any concerns they may have about the workplace or their own wellbeing, does not appear to be resolving this issue or offering effective support to staff. In response to questioning from Alex Norris MP, on 20 July 2020 The Ministry of Justice, in which HMPPS sits, has recently confirmed that:
“The existing Ministry of Justice whistleblowing policy was reviewed by the Ministry of Justice HR Policy team during 2020. Drafts of the updated policy and supporting guidance documents were shared with the HMPPS trade unions, as part of a wider consultation exercise. We are aiming to conclude this and launch the new policy in the Autumn.”
Protect has written to Alex Norris MP to offer support to unions whose members may be in need of whistleblowing advice. In addition, we are seeking to support the MoJ to achieve the highest standards possible when considering what needs to be in place for effective whistleblowing. We have written to Robert Buckland QC, Secretary of State for the MoJ, and the Rt Hon Lord Keen of Elie QC, Lord Spokesperson and Advocate General for Scotland to provide our recommendations for effective systems and processes to ensure that the new arrangements can provide a truly supportive environment which encourages and protects whistleblowers.
Protect know that no matter how good a whistleblowing policy is, if staff trust isn’t there, the policy simply won’t be used. In order to earn staff confidence, it is imperative the HMPPS carry out training and communications to support the new policy and show that those who breach the rules will be held to account.
Having a simple and accessible reporting channel for employees to raise concerns is also vital. The freshly established Joint Union Prisons Alliance (JUPA) have created a Safe Inside Prisons Charter, which highlights 8 key practices and assurances that government should consider in order to improve the safety and wellbeing of those working in prisons. This includes three points relating to the reporting system:
A single reporting system will be implemented which will give all workers and partner agencies the ability to record all health and safety concerns including incidents and near misses, not limited to all instances of violence including threats, abuse and anti -social behaviour directed towards them.
The reporting system will be accessible to workers, both internally and externally, so that they may report incidents outside of working hours or away from their workplace.
Identify a single point of contact so that workers may be assured that their concerns are being addressed and to ensure they are given regular updates on the progress of their report
If you work in a prison and you’d like advice on speaking up, call the advice line on 0203 117 2520. Alternatively if you are part of JUPA or an interested party, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to collaborate on policy.