New psychoactive substances, safety and mental health in prison officers

G. Kinman*, A. J. Clements

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) in UK prisons is believed to have increased substantially. As well as posing a significant threat to prisoners' health, NPS use can trigger violent, unpredictable and aggressive behaviour. Dealing with the direct and indirect effects of NPS therefore has the potential to compromise the physical and psychological safety of prison staff. Aims: This study investigates prison officers' perceptions of NPS use in their workplace and their risk of exposure. Relationships between NPS exposure, the workplace safety climate and mental health were also examined. Methods: We assessed prison officers' perceptions of the prevalence of NPS use among prisoners in their workplace, their personal exposure and the safety climate in their institution through an online survey. The General Health Questionnaire-12 measured mental health. Descriptive statistics were used to assess officers' perceptions of NPS use in their workplace and their personal exposure and correlations examined relationships between variables. Results: The sample comprised 1956 prison officers (86% male). Most respondents (85%) highlighted NPS as a serious cause for concern in their institution. Two-thirds (66%) reported being personally exposed to NPS at least sometimes, with 22% being exposed once a day or more. Significant relationships were found between officers' perceived NPS exposure, assessments of safety climate and self-reported mental health. Conclusions: Our findings highlight the need for urgent action to reduce the use of NPS among prisoners. This is likely to improve the safety climate of UK prisons and the mental health of staff.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)346-350
Number of pages5
JournalOccupational Medicine
Issue number8
Early online date20 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s).


  • Mental health
  • new psychoactive substances
  • occupational health
  • prisons
  • safety climate


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