Sick days taken by prison workers have increased by almost 50,000 in the last four years, sparking accusations that the Scottish Government is failing staff who are “struggling almost to breaking point”.
Figures revealed by a freedom of information request show the number sick days taken by prison officers and staff has risen by 48,226 since 2015-16, to 124,973 in the last year.
The Scottish Conservatives, who submitted the request, claim the “enormous and steady increases” show the SNP Government is failing in its duty to keep prison staff safe.
The Tories point to the rise in assaults on officers “as prisons struggle to deal with the influx of illegal drugs and mobile phones”, as well as the prison officers’ union announcing plans to ballot for industrial action over concerns about pay and increased violence.
Liam Kerr, Scottish Conservative justice spokesman, said: “It is no coincidence at all that prison officer sick days have been rising at the same time as assaults on prison officers.
“Our prison workforce is clearly struggling almost to breaking point.
“Prison staff must be given proper physical and mental support to deal with the significant pressure of the job.
“Sadly, these figures would suggest that currently the SNP is not providing the back-up officers they need.
“The SNP has failed to provide body-worn cameras to officers as a matter of routine, even though they are a deterrent to an attack and can provide evidence if needed.
“The SNP has a duty to keep prison staff safe and well – it is increasingly failing on both counts.”
The Scottish Prison Service confirmed the number of sick days prison officers have taken over the last year was 54,995, up from the 30,704 days taken in 2015-16.
Sick days taken by other prison staff have also risen from 46,043 in 2015-16 to 70,018 through the last year.
Responding to the release of the figures, a spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service said: “We are concerned by the level of sickness as the health and wellbeing of all our staff is major concern for us.”
He explained that the prison service was working with trade unions to address the problem, which he suggested was in part due to an increase in those involved in organised crime who “bring with them patterns of behaviour associated with serious criminal activity”.
On the issue of body-worn cameras that was raised by the Scottish Conservatives, the spokesman said the prison service had never asked the Scottish Government to provide staff with the equipment because of a lack of evidence showing any reduction in violence.