Social workers could enter prisons on safeguarding probes

Social workers could be asked to go into prisons to respond to suspected abuse cases under moves to help inmates receive similar levels of protection to people living in the community.

Social workers could go into prisons to investigate safeguarding issues under a new policy devised by the prisons inspectorate. Inspectors are being told to contact local council safeguarding teams and directors of adult social services where they suspect abuse of vulnerable adult inmates.

While safeguarding teams may not necessarily intervene, it is possible that they will in serious cases. The shift comes as part of new prison inspectorate indicators to ensure jails address safeguarding issues effectively (see below). The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has issued a note informing directors that they may be contacted by inspectors where safeguarding incidents occur.

While prisoners are not formally excluded from the No Secrets safeguarding guidance, and social care policies more widely, council teams typically do not include them on their caseloads. This is despite anecdotal evidence of rising social care needs in prisons, due to an ageing population, large numbers of inmates with mental health problems and a significant contingent with learning disabilities, and a lack of specialist support within jails.

A Community Care survey of prison governors last year found almost half had no staff member appointed to co-ordinate social care in their prison, 38% felt social care in their prison was of poor or below average quality and 40% said prisoners themselves delivered social care support to fellow inmates. Though prison healthcare staff are bound by NHS safeguarding procedures, the Prison Service “has not really picked up on No Secrets”, said social care consultant Robin Cowen, who helped develop the prisons inspectorate initiative.

“There’s been nothing happening much before [in addressing safeguarding issues in prisons],” said Cowen. “I’m delighted that the prisons inspectorate has picked it up.” Cowen said that the inspectorate would examine issues including bullying, financial abuse and sexual abuse. 

“There’s no expectation that the local safeguarding team will do anything,” he added. “They might be asked to give some advice and guidance and support. There will be arguments for local safeguarding teams going into prisons in particular cases. To my knowledge we haven’t seen it yet.”

Adult social services directors have also been advised to invite prison governors in their areas to sit on safeguarding adult boards, and to agree joint safeguarding outcomes with them. Current government plans to put safeguarding boards on a statutory footing would not mandate membership from prisons and would leave this to local areas to decide.

New indicators for prisons

• Risks to prisoners are recognised and there are procedures to help reduce and prevent abuse.
• Where abuse is suspected or alleged, prompt and appropriate action is taken to protect the prisoner.
• Prisoners at risk of abuse have a care plan that meets assessed needs and is regularly reviewed.
• Staff understand safeguarding procedures and know how to make referrals.
• Where possible, prisoners can access advocates and/or appropriate adults to aid their capacity to understand and consent.
• Staff feel confident and safe to raise concerns and undergo appropriate training.

Image: Action Press/Rex Features

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