General Secretary

May 2008 | 30.04.2008

Justice Forum Conference 10th April 2008

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Blame culture, resources and impact upon service delivery in the justice system.

Wed 10th April 2008 I was privileged on behalf of the POA to be asked to speak at he justice forum conference along with other justice trade unions, the police federation and experts and academics in he field of criminal justice. I would wish to thank the justice forum on behalf of all affiliates to that organisation for arranging the conference and for giving all of those present the opportunity to raise issues about a system that is clearly in crisis.

In my speech I stated:-

‘’The prison system in England and Wales is in crisis“ - I have heard that before somewhere! The prison estate in England is full to capacity – and we have all heard that before as well.

Year on year the POA along with every other organisation with an interest in the criminal justice system has been telling the current government and it predecessors that our prisons are overfilled and are being used as dumping grounds for those with mental health, personality disorders and addiction problems.

The prison system as a whole has been severely overcrowded since 1994. The current director general states that he does not wish to have a return to the times when the POA took industrial action in the 1970’s and 80’s by locking prison gates to prevent overcrowding and the consequential breakdown of security and control. If that is the case then he should get up off of his belly and fight for better resoursing.

Every year the government publish their projections about what is going to happen to the prison population, and for the last decade the population has consistently been higher at the end of those projections. So the question now becomes – if projections are correct and the government and the prison service management have the knowledge, why have we ended up in the positions of having to use police cells at huge cost to he prison budget and having to hold prisoners in court cells for long periods of time in inhumane conditions?

The answer is quite simple, and can be summed up in three words – HER MAJESTY’S TREASURY.

The failure of the home office, the Prison Service but most importantly the prisons board to secure appropriate funding is an absolute national disgrace.’’

On the subject of how the POA has been blamed I made the following points,

‘’The POA over the last three years have been dragged through the courts by a government intent on silencing any voice of criticism regarding their mismanagement. We have had the opportunity to examine the criminal justice system from the both sides.  Our experience has not been good. The government has used the justice system as a weapon to attack our Union, it’s National Executive, its membership and has even threatened it’s continued existence. All this under a so-called Labour Government!’’

On the subject of the direction in which the justice unions should be going, I made clear that the way forward was as follows.

‘’ We need to campaign together in a forceful way.  We need to get off our backsides as activists to educate our membership. We need to challenge the failures of Government in a noisy, loud and public way, but more importantly where restrictions are placed in our way by the use of bad laws, we need to break those laws. Stranding together and united we can change the justice system to a fair, modern and acceptable system. We can make it better for the unions, for our Members, for the user and create a civil society for all, or we can sit back do nothing and watch it destroyed on the alter of financial cut backs and privatisation. It is our duty to cause these changes.’’

To all POA members – let us all stand strong with our Trades Union Comrades. Let us take the fight to the Government. Together we are strong – together we can win!

Brian Caton
General Secretary