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Against a backdrop of rising levels of self-harming, assaults on prisoners and violence towards prison personnel, a charity has taken steps to try to reduce the incidence of conflict in prisons.

The Prison Reform Trust is acutely aware that violence and fear are a daily reality inside prisons and has responded by producing a guide for personnel and prison officials to use as a blueprint for helping cut the tide of violence in UK prisons.

Creating a safer prison environment

The document “Ensuring a safe environment: a conflict centred strategy” has been drawn up by Dr Kimmett Edgar, who is the Prison Reform Trust’s Head of Research and a specialist in violence and conflict resolution in prisons.

It aims to support the development of strategies for violence reduction in prisons and expands on the key themes of a speech delivered to the Prison Safety and Reform team at the Ministry of Justice earlier this year.

Dr Edgar stressed that conflict resolution should be placed at the centre of prison strategies if there is to be a reduction in violence within custodial institutions.

He believes such a move would “empower governors, officers and prisoners in their efforts to make prisons safer.”

Structure, relationships and trust

While the report comes at a time that there has been a fall in self-inflicted deaths in prison over the last year, other areas have witnessed a rise in acts of violence. It looks at a range of scenarios and approaches that may help cut the levels of violence. These include an examination of the ways the prison environment can cause or prevent conflicts among prisoners; relationships within prisons with prison officers playing a pivotal role in keeping everyone safe; rebuilding trust between managers, staff, and prisoners; and sharing responsibility for safety with prisoners so that all parties have a stake in creating a safe and stable prison.

The document urges governors to be more resourceful in trying to learn from prisoners what their main concerns are about and advocates an analysis of conflict to help reveal the underlying causes of fights and assaults.

Violence prevention strategy

In its conclusion, Dr Edgar’s report states: “The prison service should ensure that conflict resolution guides its violence prevention strategy and is standard operational practice.

“Embedding conflict resolution means establishing structures that enable management and staff to bring conflicts to light and working with prisoners to try to find solutions.”
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