Political News Updates

15.01.2016

Parliamentary Briefing - Justice Select Committee Prison Safety

The recent Justice Select Committee Report has considered the Government’s response to the deterioration in prison safety from 2012.

The Justice Select Committee acknowledge that there are significantly higher rates of self-inflicted injuries and deaths as well as an increase in assaults and a significant growth of incidents generally. All of this is in despite of the MoJ and NOMS attempt to improve prison safety. Improvements have included new legislation to cover new offences to deal with the possession of new psychoactive substances and knives within prisons. The Justice Select Committee has also recognised the potential benefits of body-worn cameras should NOMS decide to roll this out across the Prison estate.

Referring to their predecessor Committee’s Report on Prisons: Planning and Policies, they observe that “the Government had been reluctant to acknowledge the serious nature of the operational and safety challenges facing prisons, and the role of its own policy decisions in creating them.”

The POA believe that the Ministry of Justice remain in denial as to its responsibility, and that their current plans and projections in respect of staffing levels and prison safety are not realistic or deliverable.

The report comments on the efforts of staff, who are trying to ensure prisoners and staff remain in a secure and safe environment. Despite the effort of staff, it is clear that the Committee believe that the overall levels of safety in prisons has not stabilised as the Ministry of Justice has anticipated. In fact, the report identifies that this area remains in decline.
The Justice Committee state that “this is a matter of great concern, and improvement is urgently needed.”

The Committee raise particular concerns in respect of staff retention. The Government has recently announced a net gain of 440 Prison Officers since January 2015.
The POA wish to draw to your attention that the data was taken from the low point of Prison Service staffing and the reality is that in the 12 months to March 2016, Prison Officer numbers increased by just 10.

It was also recognised by the Justice Select Committee that since 2010 there are now 7,000 fewer officers.

The POA commend the Justice Select Committee for their call on the Ministry of Justice and NOMS to produce an action plan to improve prison safety. The POA look forward to engaging with NOMS on these action plans should they materialise.

The Ministry of Justice and NOMS urgently need to review and address the underlying reasons for the unprecedented rise in violence, self-harm and self- inflicted deaths in our prisons.

The POA has continued to highlight the dangers of current starting rates of pay as set out within Fair and Sustainable. The POA express grave concerns over the decision by NOMS to allow significant numbers of experienced operational staff to leave the Service under the voluntary departure scheme at a significant cost to the tax payer.

The NOMS Benchmarking Programme has established staffing levels under a one size fits all which was decided on the basis to meet the budgetary constraints placed upon the Service by Treasury. The POA still maintain that the benchmark staffing and regimes are not fit for purpose and an underlying reason as to why prisons are no longer safe, decent and secure.

The Secretary of State Michael Gove advised the Committee in July 2015 that they would need to “consider, that exercise having taken place, did the shoe pinch too tightly in any particular area? Are there consequences of benchmarking and of the reforms that were made that we need to reflect on?”

The POA question what NOMS and the Ministry of Justice intend to do to address the unprecedented level of assaults and self – inflicted deaths in our prisons. Whilst we accept Prison Reform may have some long term solutions the reality is more front line staff are required to provide public confidence and safety.

The POA calls on all Members of Parliament, particularly those with prisons in their constituencies and those in the House of Lords to consider the contents of this report and the previous Prisons: Planning and Policies Report. We urge MP’s to ask questions of Government on what has been done to date, what they plan to do and more importantly when they plan to do it.