General Secretary

April 2009 | 31.03.2009

Jack, don't break our back

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Any civilized society would wish to see its injured, vulnerable and damaged citizens dealt with in an appropriate and caring way.

Despite the greed, jealousy and selfi sh attitudes that have developed within our capitalist society, it is still true that the British citizen cares for his fellow man.

The people of the United Kingdom are right to voice loudly their opinion that the provision of health care is carried out in ‘their NHS’, that children are educated in ‘their schools’, that life-long learning is carried out in ‘their colleges and universities’, that it is ‘their Fire and Rescue Service’ that bravely saves lives and rescues their friends and families. So why is society so resistant to accepting that those who have committed crimes are housed in ‘their prisons’? The brave men and women who run and operate the Prison Service deserve no lesser inclusion than any other public servant; indeed, at this time, they probably deserve more understanding for the work that they do than at any time in modern history.

Our prisons and penal institutions house in excess of 83,000 of our citizens. It is easy to write off this huge amount of people by casting them into the abyss as law-breakers, professional criminals and society’s ‘low life’. While many criminals are rightly despised by the victims of crime, the simple analysis outlined above belies the reality.

Since the ill thought out plans of ‘care in the community’ and the ‘dog eat dog-law of the jungle’ philosophy of the Thatcher government, we have seen a 10-fold rise in the level of mentally ill and personality disordered citizens entering our prisons, with a relative fall in the level of mental health spaces in the NHS.

While the authors of care in the community, a Conservative Government, would never admit the biggest of big mistakes, we all expected a Labour Government to honour its commitments to be fair to those with mental health problems and to tackle drug abuse, social exclusion and poverty-based crime. This sadly has not been the case.

A new Labour Government has embraced the market and capitalism and in doing so has fuelled the fires of jealousy, avarice and greed and has sidestepped its obligation to provide care at the appropriate time for those with mental health, drug and substance abuse problems, consequently allowing them to flow into the cheapest option: the Criminal Justice System and into jail.

How much they could and should have done and how much they left undone, in order to embrace multinational big business. Not satisfi ed with ignoring their obligation and the failure of privatisation, PPP and PFI, the New Labour Government has sought and continues to seek a private sector involvement, to make profit from prisons through the Government’s abdication of their civil and social responsibility.

When the economy was strong and money was available, the Government did nothing to ensure that a civil society put right the injustice of jailing the sick, the poor and those with drug-related mental illness. Neither did they care about those given the responsibility to work in and run our prisons. Year on year below infl ation pay rises, a removal of the necessary authority to maintain order in prisons and a failure to tackle the causes of crime has irretrievably smashed the morale of Prison Officers specifi cally and the Prison Service more generally.

Now, in times of economic downturn, recession and defl =ation the Prison Service and its staff , prisoners and ultimately the safety of society is being sacrifi ced in the name of ‘efficiency savings’ driven by dangerous operating practices used in the private sector prison service.

It is right now for the POA, as the true voice of those working in prisons, to pick up the cudgel. If Government, the National Offender Manager Service, the Prison Service Management and the Prison Governors fail to ensure that the citizens of our country can enjoy a safe secure and purposeful Prison Service then the POA will have to do so.

The so-called Workforce Modernisation sham seeks to downgrade, de-skill and cut the staff working in our unique public service. The consequences will be unsafe for staff and prisoners inside prisons and will eventually lead to more crime committed by ex-off enders whose off ending behaviour could not be tackled in prison and who are placed in the care of a dismally resourced Probation Service – another of our public services, whose morale has also been wrecked and destroyed on the altar of ‘efficiency savings’.

The Prison Service will always be an unstable ship – it rocks from side to side like the ship of the desert.

WFM is the straw that broke this camel’s back.

Brian Caton
General Secretary