The official guidance is that prison officers are permitted to use PAVA spray when there is: “serious violence or an imminent or perceived risk of it”.
The disproportionate use of PAVA incapacitant spray on Black, Black British and Muslim prisoners is now so firmly established that it has become normalised, according to a new analysis published yesterday by the Prison Reform Trust. The briefing reveals that since PAVA spray was introduced, the scale of the disparity in its use against Black/Black British prisoners has increased. PRT argues strongly that the prison service is failing to meet its legal obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED).
PAVA is now available to staff in all adult male prisons, after the Ministry of Justice failed to honour a commitment to make the authorisation of PAVA conditional on prisons successfully demonstrating their readiness for the weapon. This would have required individual prisons to demonstrate they understood the trends in their use of force and any areas where it was being used disproportionately, before being permitted to introduce the spray.
Lack of transparency
Following a further judicial review in 2020, after the decision to roll out PAVA without readiness assessment safeguards, the Ministry of Justice committed to publishing further national use of force statistics to support public monitoring and scrutiny of PAVA use. However, no statistics have been published and PRT have had to assemble data via a number of parliamentary questions. Black British men make up approximately 13% of the adult male prison population.
The data also reveal that between April 2019–December 2022, 30% of those on whom PAVA was used were muslim, despite accounting for around 17% of the male prison population.
The PRT briefing sets out a series of events which shows the circular “logic” of this development. We reproduce this in full below:
One key point in the official guidance is that prison officers are permitted to use PAVA spray when there is: “serious violence or an imminent or perceived risk of it”.
A call for change
The Prison Reform Trust argues that prison safety is reciprocal: prison staff cannot be safe unless the people in their care are safe, and prisons cannot protect the people in their care unless prison staff are safe. PAVA, a weapon that causes pain, shifts staff-prisoner relations; prison staff safety is to be achieved through increasing the danger to prisoners. PRT argues that the unfair use of PAVA spray creates tensions and conflict which in turn results in more violence and more use of PAVA spray in a vicious spiral that is increasingly seen in the prison inspectorate reports.
The Chief Inspector, in his report on children in custody earlier this week raised serious concerns about the proposed introduction of PAVA spray in the youth estate.
PRT conclude the briefing with a series of recommendations, chief among which is the call for the regular publication of PAVA spray data, broken down by ethnicity and included in publications on racial disparities in the justice system.
Interested readers can read the full briefing here.