Prison staff are key actors in the successful rehabilitation of people in prison, but staff are often poorly paid, under-trained and experience high levels of work-related stress and violence.
It is vital that prison staff are treated with respect, and the challenges of their role are acknowledged and addressed. They must also have the necessary resources to do their jobs well.
The Nelson Mandela Rules require that staff should be full-time civil servants and receive appropriate pay with training before starting work and during their career. However, there are still relatively few international or regional standards relating to personnel.
Addressing the working conditions of staff often goes hand-in-hand with improving the conditions of prisons more widely. Prison staff are usually subject to the same conditions as detainees. these may include poor infrastructure, insufficient space, air and light and unhygienic conditions. Both mental and physical illness is high amongst prison staff, often exacerbated by physical conditions, threats of violence and a devaluation of their work.
Staff to prisoner ratios. See Global Prison Trends 2021.
Short staffing is a common issue in many contexts and is especially a concern regarding specific categories of staff. Many prison systems lack professionals in healthcare, education or social support. People in prison consequently face increasing difficulties in having basic access to healthcare, education, and social and rehabilitation support. Where staff shortages occur, prison officials have to supervise larger groups with less resources, often for longer shifts.
The coronavirus pandemic brought high risk to the health and lives of prison staff, as well as worsening working conditions for prison staff. While some countries classified or termed prison staff as frontline, essential or at higher risk, overall, their situation did not receive adequate attention from political decision-makers. The rates of COVID-19 among staff remains unknown in many countries due to a lack of systematic testing of prison staff, or a failure to gather data and/or make it publicly available. Where data is available it shows there is a great variation in infection and death rates from COVID-19 among prison staff: Prison staff in some countries have contracted COVID-19 at rates higher than the general population. Some prison administrations restricted movement of staff to limit transmission during the pandemic, resulting in staff remaining on site.
Staff shortages in prisons have been reported widely due to illness, mandatory isolation and changes in organisational structures during the pandemic.
As part of our 2020-2023 strategy we will promote better conditions for prison staff, ensuring provision for their health and well-being and supporting their professional development. We will also seek to highlight particular challenges faced by female staff in penitentiary systems as well as in police forces.