General Secretary

August 2015

HM INSPECTOR OF PRISONS FOR ENGLAND AND WALES

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NICK HARDWICK, THE CHIEF INSPECTOR OF PRISONS, ISSUED A HARD-HITTING BUT HONEST REPORT REGARDING THE PRISON SERVICE IN 2014/15.


In his view, the data over the last 10 years covering safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement, demonstrated that assessed outcomes in the prisons that the Inspectorate reported on during 2014/15, fell sharply across all areas and were the worst for 10 years.

This will not come as a surprise to POA members working in our prisons and immigration centres. You cannot possibly hope for good outcomes when the budgets are being slashed year-on-year and staffing levels are falling, yet there is now a record prison population of 86,300. Violence is also on the increase and the POA has never ever gone out to try and be alarmist but tragedy was only going to be around the corner and sadly, it struck at Blackfriars Crown Court (See the story below).

LORRAINE BARWELL, CUSTODY OFFICER


SERCO EMPLOYEE, LORRAINE BARWELL, WAS KILLED ON DUTY. OUR THOUGHTS ARE WITH HER FAMILY, FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES.

There is an ongoing police investigation into this matter and we hope that the family receives justice for this appalling crime. Obviously, we do not wish to say anything that would jeopardise the outcome of the criminal investigation nor the internal investigation that Serco will undoubtedly be having. Although not the recognised union for Serco, as the biggest and most experienced trade union in the criminal justice system, the POA has commented publicly and done extensive media communication on this very sad case, as we have vast experience in the difficulties that exist for workers in the justice system.

Lorraine’s death cannot be in vain and I think everyone connected with the justice system will be shocked by her death and demand justice. The POA has already raised this issue with the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, and the Prisons Minister, Andrew Selous. At every avenue we will raise the concerns of workers in the justice sector regarding the increasing violence against our members and indeed, those who are not at the moment represented by the POA and perhaps not represented by any trade union. We await the outcome of this criminal investigation before saying anything else. The Chief Executive of Serco, Rupert Soames, has had a brief dialogue with me on the telephone and if there is anything that the POA can do to assist Serco with making the workplace safer for their employees, then we are content to share our expertise and knowledge with them or indeed any other private provider.

INCREASING VIOLENCE


THERE IS NO ESCAPE FOR THIS GOVERNMENT FROM THE RISE IN VIOLENCE IN PRISONS.

If we need to raise this subject every day of every week, then that is exactly what we will do, because it is the policies of this Government and the Coalition Government that has led to the increase in violence in our prisons. If you have a race to the bottom with a cuts agenda then I am afraid cuts have consequences.

That is not the POA crying wolf or scaremongering − the figures speak for themselves. I have been around the criminal justice system for 25 years, and the impact of these cuts are devastating and the savage budget cuts play a huge part in the increasing violence. A direct lift from the Chief Inspector’s report, give the following figures for an average week in prisons in England and Wales:

° Four to five prisoners died; ° One or two of those deaths was self inflicted, most using a ligature fixed to a bed or window; ° There were almost 500 self-harm incidents; ° There were over 300 assaults and more than 40 of them were serious. A blunt instrument or blade were the most common weapons; and ° There were about 70 assaults on staff and nine of them were serious.

On average, there was a homicide once every three months. I take no pride in giving these statistics but politicians cannot be allowed to hide and bluff their way through it in the name of austerity. Our members’ lives and those that we care for are far more important than cutting budgets and we will raise these disgraceful stories at every opportunity.

I do not view these appalling figures as statistics, there is a human being behind every statistic whether that be a prison officer, custody officer or prisoner. It is a stain on our society. No one seems to care about the rise in violence in the workplace.

Since 2010, assault incidents have risen by 13 percent to 16,196 and the increase is accelerating. There were 10 percent more incidents in 2014 than in 2013 alone. The number of serious assaults has also risen by 55 percent over the last five years and by 35 percent in the last year.

That is prisoner-on-prisoner statistics. We now have 86,300 prisoners − a record high with 6,000 fewer staff. No one in their right mind could claim that the cuts have not been a contributory factor in this dramatic rise.

Assaults on staff

Assaults on staff have risen sharply; there were 3,637 in 2014, an increase of 28 percent on 2010 and 11 percent on 2013.

Serious assaults on staff have risen from 302 in 2010, to 359 in 2013 and 477 in 2014, an increase of 58 percent overall and 33 percent since last year.

Those figures are damning and if the employer and Government are not going to take the matter seriously then we will use every avenue to make them realise their policies are fl awed and dangerous. If that means we find a legal avenue to challenge in court then that is what we may have to do.

The Prisons Inspector made the following observation in his report: “We believe that the key explanatory factor for the obvious deterioration in standards over the last year is that a significant number of prisons have been operating at staffing levels below what is necessary to maintain reasonable, safe and rehabilitative regimes.”

Now the POA has been saying that since 2010. If Government officials and the employer don’t want to take note of the trade union then you should be listening to the Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Justice Select Committee before there are further tragedies in the criminal justice system.

Policy plans

Since my last General Secretary column (June/July 2015 issue page 6) I have met the Secretary of State, Mr Gove, along with his advisors and Mr Selous, the Prisons Minister. Areas of concern including budget cuts, violence, pension age, recruitment and retention were raised with the Secretary of State. It was a non-confrontational meeting. He didn’t agree to anything but he listened. Since then, Mr Gove went on to make a speech about education and rehabilitation. I will reserve judgement on his policy plans until we see the detail but in principle, education is an ingredient to rehabilitation but it appears it may been on a wing and a prayer because there is no money to invest in such areas.

In my view, not enough is being done to divert people away from prison in the first instance, and until a politician grasps the nettle and deals with it we will keep going around in circles dreaming up new buzz words and playing smoke and mirrors.

The POA will support any government on sensible policies that are demonstrably effective in rehabilitation of offenders, and in assisting them lead law abiding lives upon release, but the time has come to stop dancing around the issues and have clear policies that are properly funded to realise outcomes. I hear the phrases; ‘signposting’, ‘pathways’, ‘through the gate’, ‘rehabilitation revolution’, these are just words Minister.

My advice is to cut the drivel and use language that everyone understands, and have meaningful policies that work. If that occurs, we will work with you to achieve your goals. If it is just more hollow words that we have heard over the 25 to 30 years, then we will challenge you on the effectiveness of your policies because at the end of the day, you will be judged on results.

 

 

Steve Gillan
POA General Secretary

 

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