A spike in incidents causing psychological and physical injury to prison staff across NSW has meant the state's corrections authority paid more than double the amount for its workers' compensation premium contribution last financial year as it did in 2017-18.
But while Corrective Services NSW acknowledges the proportion of workers' compensation claims lodged by staff has increased, the authority believed that a rise in assaults on workers during the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to slowly trend downward.
NSW Labor released figures at the weekend showing that the authority's premium contribution jumped from $27.7 million in 2017-18 to $58 million in 2019-20.
Nineteen per cent of those claims state-wide were for psychological injury last financial year - up from 12 per cent two years prior. Of the 851 corrections staff receiving workers' compensation across NSW, 413 are not at work.
The corrections authority confirmed the figures were accurate when contacted by the Newcastle Herald on Monday.
There are four jails in the Hunter Region, including the Shortland, Cessnock and Hunter correctional centres at Cessnock and the St Heliers facility at Muswellbrook. About 750 corrections employees work across those four prisons as well as in the region's courts.
"Managing the state's worst criminals is a tough job and the conditions our prison guards face are getting worse," Labor's spokesperson Daniel Mookhey said.
"More prison guards getting hurt means the job of managing the state's toughest criminals gets harder. The government needs a rapid plan to lift workplace health and safety standards for our hardworking prison staff."
A Corrective Services NSW spokesperson said the increase in premium contribution was due to several factors including a rise in the number of staff claims as well as increased wages and higher operational costs of the compensation scheme.
"Staff safety, security and well-being is our highest priority and we consider any assault on staff as unacceptable," she said.
"Affected officers are provided with all available assistance and we support prosecutions of inmates who engage in this behaviour.
"The rate of assaults on staff remained about the same from the 2015-16 financial year to 2018-19. This rate increased in the 2019-2020 financial year, which coincided with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when there was increased tension among inmates due to visit restrictions and a disruption to the contraband supply. Recent figures indicate that the trend is slowly decreasing."
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