The Prison Officers’ Association says violence in prisons across England and Wales has dropped partly because gangs are mixing less due to measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
But the charity Inquest warns this overlooks the harm done to inmates “languishing in conditions amounting to solitary confinement”.
HMP Stoke Heath recorded 52 assaults between January and June, provisional data from the Ministry of Justice shows.
This was down from 80 over the same six months in 2019, according to provisional figures published last year.
At Stoke Heath prison, near Market Drayton, eight assaults in the six months to June were classed as serious.
This can include sexual assaults, an attack resulting in severe injury such as stab wounds or broken bones, or one that requires hospital admission as an inpatient.
There were 39 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults, and 12 on staff.
'Blessing in disguise'
These may not equal the total number of assaults recorded as officers can be assaulted in a prisoner-on-prisoner assault, while some attacks may involve visitors.
Prisons across England and Wales recorded 11,800 assaults in the six months to June – thousands fewer than the 16,800 seen last year.
In March, prisons went into lockdown as the coronavirus spread, with many prisoners kept in their cells for 23 hours a day, visits from family and friends cancelled, and educational programmes suspended.
Restrictions were later eased, but POA national chairman Mark Fairhurst said that prisoners being allowed to socialise in smaller groups to reduce contact had been “a blessing in disguise”.
The union’s assistant general secretary Mick Pimblett said fewer prisoners being out of their cells at any one time meant gangs were mixing less, leading to less bullying and vulnerable prisoners feeling safer.
He added: “Not only have we kept prisoners relatively safe from Covid, violence has dramatically reduced.
"We must build on this success by ensuring that our prisons are adequately resourced, staff prisoner relationships continue to improve and we cater for the mental health of all who live and work in our prisons.”