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This year's conference will go down in POA history
The POA Annual Conference held in Southport in May this year, mandated the National Executive Committee to modernise the POA by supporting and endorsing Conference Papers 1 to 10 which concern the restructuring of the Trade Union.
The closing of Bullwood Hall, Camp Hill, Canterbury, Gloucester, Kingston, Shepton Mallet and Shrewsbury, coupled with the partial closures of Chelmsford and Hull is nothing more than vandalism of a prison service that is bursting at the seams. We have already seen closures that the POA has built cases around to keep them opened only to have those cases ignored.
The Secretary of State claims that the Government strategy for the custodial estate is to ensure that we have sufficient places to meet the demand of the courts whilst securing best value for money. His intention is to have more adult male prison capacity available than we had in 2010 but at a much lower unit and overall cost. The Government strategy for achieving this is to replace accommodation which is old, inefficient or has limited long term strategic value with cheaper, modern capacity which is designed to better meet the demand for prison places and supports the Government aim to drive down high reoffending rates.
The Secretary of State has made it clear that this programme of prison closure is not finished and will continue. I believe the Secretary of State is taking a massive gamble with the safety of the public, prison officers and related grades and indeed those that we are charged to look after. The National Executive Committee aims to bring to the general public attention the smoke and mirrors that is being played with prison population and the alleged head room that has permitted these closures.
It is claimed that there is excess capacity of 6,819 spaces across the custodial estate
On 4 January 2013, the prison population stood at 83,632 with useable operational capacity of 90,451 places. The retention of this spare level of capacity, they claim, is expensive and cannot be justified given the current financial challenge that is faced. Not once in any statement has the employer or Minister mentioned the pressure on staff . I can only assume that the sole motive is budget cuts rather than the welfare of staff , their families or indeed the prisoners themselves.
It would now appear the norm is to work to operational capacity. This is a dangerous and unwelcome practice. It would appear Government and the employer have accepted institutional overcrowding of the majority of our prisons. Let us not forget that approximately 80 of our prisons throughout the estate are operating well above the Certified Normal Accommodation level. In simple terms; that means a cell which is designed for one prisoner has two prisoners and a cell designed for two has three. In my view that is totally unacceptable because the quality work cannot be done to address re- off ending which the Government claims is its centrepiece in the rehabilitation revolution.
It does not add up and the general public needs to know the truth and we will ensure our campaign is well and truly focussed on getting that message out.
- Eight prison officers are assaulted every single day
- Prison officers have to deal with record levels of prisoners assaulting each other amounting to around 42 prisoners assaults each day
- Record levels of prisoners are self harming; currently standing at 23,000 incidents per year. That is excluding hostage incidents, incidents at height, concerted indiscipline whether active or passive that prison officers deal with day in day out.
With institutional overcrowding being widely accepted as the norm, these statistics will only get worse and create tensions within our overcrowded system. Instead of closing prisons the overcrowding should have been alleviated throughout the estate working towards achieving Certified Normal Accommodation so that the quality work can be done with prisoners
Ministers should listen to the POA
Prison officers and related grades are losing their jobs through redundancy and the proposed efficiency benchmarking. I believe this is a recipe for disaster and this Government is driving through change far too quickly. Government needs to reflect before something goes tragically wrong. It is all very well trying to appease some newspapers.
I can never understand why Ministers are sensitive to certain newspapers but they tend to react without looking at the consequences. For example the review of the current Incentives Earned Privileges scheme is a knee-jerk reaction to please the media. There is nothing wrong with the scheme as it stands it just needs to be managed correctly and prison officers should be backed by managers when they recommend a prisoner should be on basic or indeed moved through the system. The scheme itself is sound but the application of it needs addressing; however is that really for Ministers to get involved in? They should be more worried about the amount of prisoners we have to what staffing levels are being proposed.
The staff and their families must really wonder about the loyalty they have and are giving to the service because in return they get no recognition whatsoever from this uncaring Government which is obsessive about austerity. I urge Ministers to start listening to the POA, it is not too late to reverse these decisions of prison closure and set up an independent review of the prison estate and its needs before something goes drastically wrong.