National Chair

May 2010 | 17.05.2010

Diversity - How Diverse 100 years on

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Dear Colleagues

The Service we work in, like the society we live in, is completely different to that of 100 years ago.  The demographic make up of society and the prison population has changed significantly during the first publication of the Prison Officers magazine, now known as the Gatelodge. 

The Service 100 years ago, would have been reflective of the society it served, it was an overwhelmingly male white dominated Service, servicing a predominately male white prison population.   

The amount of females locked up in our prisons 100 years ago was minute by today’s standards and the amount of female staff would have reflected this.

Throughout the years, we have witnessed massive changes in the make up of society, a society which is more diverse, multi cultural and modern.

Britain in its history has always been a destination for those from all over the world who wish to improve their lot.  It has become a much more diverse place following the end of the Second World War, but immigration has taken place since Roman times, with records showing people of Syrian descent living in Britain at that time.

Our prisons currently hold around 84,000 prisoners from a broad-brush of society; however the demographic make up of the staff is not reflective as society as it should be.  The POA recruits its membership from the workforce in all our prisons and its elected officials also come from this background and so we have to ask has the Union moved on in its history to reflect the demographic changes in society.

I joined the Prison Service at HMP Durham for my NEPO training in June 1986.  This was at a time when the deployment of females to male prisons was in its infancy and cross sex deployment was still quite a new concept.  Thinking back, this was only 24 years ago and gives us an indication of how far we have moved on in the Service and within the POA as a Union.

The training course I attended at Wakefield OTS, had a small percentage of females, however there were only three BME members of staff, including myself on this course, none of whom were female.  There were in excess of over 200 new entrant prison officers undergoing training.

The first establishment I served in was HMPYOI Castington.  There were no members of female uniformed staff and I was only the second black prison officer to have served there. 

If we look at the society that we were serving in the ‘80s, it was one that was already showing high degrees of diversity yet this was not reflected in the Prison Service.

The trades union movement in the ‘80s should have been at the forefront of equality issues but it wasn’t and as a trade unionist, I have to ask why?

Looking back at history and the significant events that led to changes in people’s attitudes and legislation, equality has only recently come to the fore.  

The Suffragettes fought for the rights of females to vote, black churches led the way on racial equality issues and the trades union movement has not in the last 100 years always been where it should have been; that is at the forefront of fighting inequality.

The history of the POA very much reflects the history of the trade union movement during the twentieth century and so when I am critical of the movement as a whole, I do not exclude my own Union from criticism. 

We must always as a trade union champion the worker, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation or disability.

The Service I joined was depicted in the publics’ eyes as being rife with racist staff, which bullied prisoners; and carried out brutal attacks and were sexist.  My experiences, whilst working with colleagues from different backgrounds and experiences did not depict this picture.  Yes, there were those who held extremist views but they were not all in uniform.  The views of staff in the early days within the Prison Service were similar to those I had witnessed throughout my previous 20 years of working life.  This does not mean that the views were right or proper but what it did outline was that things had to change if the Service was to improve and be reflective of society and more importantly that society changed its opinion of the Service I was now work in.

I cannot comment on the Prison Service prior to 1986, however, the changes that have been introduced since this date in respect of diversity have been absolutely massive.

I attended my first POA Conference in Scarborough in 1993.  The audience was again predominantly white males, very few females, and had an NEC which was made up of all white men.  What has changed in 2010?

The POA is a lay led Union and all its officials are elected through the ballot box, the members who reach national office within the POA, similar to that of many other unions are those individuals who put themselves forward for election.  Unfortunately, the POAs history is not littered with females who have reached the top of our Union, nor is it littered with disabled members who have been elected into national office.  I am the second man of colour to be elected to the National Executive Committee in the history of the Union.  Is this because I am only the second person of colour to put myself forward or is it because of the demographic make up of the Union or the perception of Union members?

The last 100 years has brought change in many facets of our occupation but the slowest moving aspect seems to be that of our Union and the Service grasping diversity in real terms, so that we are reflective of the public we serve.

I only hope that we do not have to wait another 100 years before we see the make up of our Union and our workplaces truly reflecting the diverse society we live in.

As National Chairman of the POA, I believe that the Gatelodge has been a success of the Union and one that I will ensure continues to be a success. 

The Gatelodge is used to promote the Union, to encourage members irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or disability to become active within the POA and trade union movement as a whole.  If the POA and the Prison Service is to continue to improve and be reflective of society we must work together to change the perception of society and ensure the demographic make up of the workforce is reflective of society in general.

 

Yours sincerely
 

 

Colin Moses
National Chairman