The Prison Officers Association has told Sky News equipment is “no replacement for staff,” as the Government unveils a £3m investment in new technology to protect prison guards.
The investment comes amid an increase in violence against prison officers and disturbances inside jails.
Two million pounds will be spent on 5,600 body-worn cameras which will be made available to prison guards in England and Wales, following the successful roll-out of the cameras among 22,000 Metropolitan Police officers last October.
Plans announced by the Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah also include £1m for new police-style handcuffs and restraints, which will reduce the need for staff to use physical holds to control aggressive prisoners.
Four prisons – HMP Wealstun, HMP Risley, HMP Preston and HMP Hull – will also trial PAVA incapacitant spray, similar to pepper spray, to boost officer safety.
Mr Gyimah said: “Prison officers do an incredibly hard job. Assaults on prison officers are up 34% in the last year. Of course prison officers have got to be professional at all times but where these cameras could make a real difference is with prosecutions and also deterring assaults against prison officers.
“I am absolutely determined to tackle head-on the issues that undermine the safety and security of our prisons and to ensure our dedicated officers have the tools they need to do the job.”
The Prison Officers Association welcomed the introduction of the new safety measures, but told Sky News the central issue remains the number of guards.
In a statement, the union said: “Whilst we welcome protective measures such as PAVA spray and body worn cameras nothing can replace correct and safe staffing levels.
“The 30% cut to staff since 2010 and the increase in violence and riots during that period still has to be addressed and equipment is no replacement for staff.”
The Government says 1,290 extra prison officers have been recruited, but admits that number is below its own target of 2,500.
Former convict John Hirst told Sky News there needs to be a more widespread reform of the prison system.
He said: “What they need to do is improve conditions. Some of the prisons are still Victorian and they still use Victorian prison rules.
“If you keep dehumanising prisoners when you put them into the system in the first place, how do you think they are going to behave?”
The Government says £10m has already been given to priority prisons to ramp up additional security measures including 24-hour patrol dogs, CCTV cameras, mobile phone detection technology and metal detectors.