General Secretary

February 2011 | 15.02.2011

The Ford Prison Riot - Criminal cuts punish us all

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As your General Secretary I have been raising awareness of the dangers of these cuts and what else we will face in the future.

The POA must stand shoulder to shoulder with other unions to protect public services, to defend our Health & Safety and jobs.

At a time of overcrowded prisons, Ministers have taken the decision to close HMP Ashwell and HMP Lancaster Castle and re-role HMP Morton Hall. I believe they have got these decisions wrong. Ashwell and Lancaster Castle by remaining open could have eased the overcrowding that most of our prisons are suffering from. Apart from that both establishments were producing results. It is a slap in the face for hardworking POA members.

LAST November riots erupted at HMP/YOI Moorland Prison for three nights running and at Warren Hill and disturbances took place at Stoke Heath, Dorchester and Werrington.

Prison Officer Association (POA) members are being assaulted on a daily basis.

On New Year’s Day Ford open prison saw scenes of rioting. Shortly after this a major incident developed at HMP Swaleside and then a further riot at HMP Littlehey.

The POA has continuously warned that the criminal justice system is heading for meltdown if the coalition government cuts are realised over the spending review period.

The POA does not wish to sound alarmist, but the health and safety of prison officers, prisoners and the general public is being placed in danger by ill-thought-out policies that have not been tested nor, in my view, have any justification or foundation.

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke and Prisons and Youth Justice Minister Crispin Blunt are stumbling from one crisis to another. They are not listening to the experts — POA members who run our prisons on a daily basis and in dangerous circumstances. It is time they did so instead of listening to groupings that have no experience of working within our prison system.

It goes without saying that the POA wants a criminal justice system that is properly funded for those in our care, addressing their offending behaviour in a manner that protects the public upon their release and stops them from reoffending. I have absolutely no problem with reducing the prison population if it is done properly, but at the moment that is not happening.

This government simply wants to reduce costs. If it can reduce the prison population, then it can sack staff on reduced redundancy terms that have been imposed. Privatisation and payment by results seem to be the chosen path, but they are doomed to failure. Private companies are only interested in one thing — profit — and in a modern society the private sector should not be courted to do the job of the state.

The POA will continue with its campaign for a publicly funded prison service, but the signs are not good for the future. Under a Labour government year-on-year savings have cut uniformed staff to the bone and now the coalition government is playing Russian roulette with safety.

The warning signs are all too plain to see and if ignored matters will become even worse, once the cuts bite deeper. The POA recognises that this government is making unprecedented cuts to a variety of public services. We are not asking for special treatment, because each public service is as valuable as the next.

Britain’s politicians need to make their minds up on how they see the future for our prisons. Over the last two or three decades my members have become political footballs with both Labour and Conservatives failing the British public with their failed policies. You cannot just lock prisoners up and hope for the best — that is reckless — nor can you just release them back into the community to save money, which is equally reckless.

The POA calls on this government to engage with the union to safeguard our criminal justice system so that quality work can continue to be done by front-line prison officers. In turn the prison population will be reduced if we are delivering the rehabilitative work that we are employed to do. This in turn will produce savings in the long run by reducing reoffending.

There is no quick fix to reduce crime. Drugs, alcohol, mental health issues and education are all contributing factors. Until they are addressed in society we will forever be going round in circles.

The government’s cuts are not the answer. This union is not looking for conflict with any political party. However, if you ignore the warning signs and place POA members’ health and safety in danger in the name of the cuts, then as a trade union we will not stand by and allow that to happen.

I am often asked what impact the 23 per cent cuts will have on the Ministry of Justice. It is not an easy question to answer because you cannot just look at the impact of this savage cut in isolation. Other cuts in society may add to the problem.

Unfortunately when unemployment has risen in the past, crime has also risen. So cuts to policing, housing and to the NHS will blend into one and have a detrimental effect on society as a whole.

I want to see the POA as a union which looks outside its own environment because, ultimately, if we don’t it will impact on my members and their families. The attacks on pensions by the Hutton review and the change of calculation from RPI to CPI are financially devastating, as is the pay freeze for two years for public-sector workers. The prison closure programme is ill thought out and based on the assumption that the prison population will fall. Yet the evidence on payment by results and the rest of the so-called “rehabilitation revolution” is not tested. Clarke and Blunt are making sweeping changes without any evidence to suggest their plans will work. I don’t think they have convinced the British public, nor have they convinced the rank-and-file prison officer.

Worse still for the justice duo is the fact that they were warned about staffing levels from the Independent Monitoring Board at HMP Ford. That report was given to the national offender management service and ministers on December 16 yet no action was taken. As a result, millions of pounds worth of damage was caused by the riot. This could easily have been avoided. Sometimes risk management to save a few pounds backfires spectacularly — this was one of those occasions.

There are alternatives to the coalition government’s ideology of cuts. It is never to late to listen and I urge the government to take a step back, not just on the criminal justice system but on the disgraceful cuts that will affect and touch every family in Britain.

 

 

Steve Gillan
General Secretary