Safety overhaul for prison wardens

The safety of prison staff is being enhanced in an attempt to reduce assaults in the often "dangerous and unpredictable environments".

Changes include increased training for new staff, a pilot mental health awareness programme for staff in high-risk areas and a safety training package for community-based staff.

Accessibility of handcuffs to custodial staff in high-risk areas will also be improved, and the use of on-body cameras to support evidence-gathering is to be investigated.

In the 2011/12 financial year there were 18 serious assaults on prison staff, 13 last year, and one in the year to date.

Corrections aimed to reduce staff assaults by half by 2015.

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley said the changes were in response to recommendations from an expert advisory panel chaired by former police commissioner Howard Broad.

The panel was set up to review and support the implementation of the department's Staff Safety Action Plan, which has been updated and revised.

"Prisons can often be dangerous and unpredictable environments, and Corrections will continue to do everything it can to ensure the safety of staff," Tolley said.

"The expert panel has endorsed the Staff Safety Action Plan and the changes planned by Corrections, as well as recommending enhancements."

The Government had already supported a range of new initiatives to boost staff safety and minimise the risk for frontline staff, Tolley said.

"This includes tactical exit training for 4000 frontline prison staff, and the introduction of training and access to pepper spray for use as a tactical option.

"We've also introduced batons, spit-hoods and stab-resistant vests for staff working in high-risk situations.

The elimination of all risk in prisons was impossible given the volatile nature of some of the offenders, Tolley said.