Halifax MP Holly Lynch has warned that prisons are becoming increasingly unsafe for both prisoners and staff following a visit to HMP Leeds.
Ms Lynch visited the prison at Armley ahead of joining the Prisons and Courts Bill committee, which is tasked with scrutinising the Government’s new prison legislation.
Figures released last year by the Ministry of Justice showed that there were 5,423 assaults on prison staff in the 12 months to the end of March - a rise of 40 per cent on the previous year.
Ms Lynch has argued that decisions taken by the Government to close 18 prisons and reduce the numbers of prison officers by 7,000 since 2010 are largely to blame.
She said: “It was clear during my visit to Armley prison that overcrowding is putting huge pressure on both the physical space in the prison, as well as the numbers of officers working there.
“I was massively impressed with the professional attitude of dedicated staff, who were committed to supporting and reforming inmates, however they explained to me how demoralising it is that in the current climate, there are so few prison officers that they are only able to do the very basics, and this has a negative impact on prison safety.
“Trust is breaking down on both sides and, with such limited resources, overcrowded prisons inevitably lead to greater levels of violence.”
HMP Leeds has been found to be the most overcrowded prison in England and Wales, according to a new report.
Analysis of Ministry of Justice data by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) has found the prison in Armley is designed to accommodate 669 men but, as of October, held 1,145.
Ms Lynch has been running a campaign to increase protections for emergency service workers from assault and has now broadened this to include new laws to protect prison officers.
“I am calling on the Government to introduce a stand-alone offence of assaulting a prison officer. This would give prison officers more protection,” she said.
“It would make it clear that assaults on officers should not be dealt with internally in prisons but should be subject to the same process as an assault committed outside of prison walls.
“I will also be arguing for more rights for officers who have been spat at by prisoners.
“As well as being horrible, spitting blood and saliva at another human being can pose a very real risk of transmitting a range of infectious diseases, some with life-changing or even lethal consequences.
“Alongside urgent action which is needed to tackle overcrowding I hope these measures will go some way towards keeping prison officers safer, and in the job.”