Scotland

General News, Articles and Information from The POA North of the Border:

18.04.2011

HMP Noranside Update

Colleagues, In our last musings we told you how we had just been informed of the SPS intention to close HMP Noranside. The following is an update on this position.

At a Special Delegate’s Conference we received unanimous support for the campaign for the retention of Noranside. This was based mainly on the fact that the rationale for closure provided by management was questionable and sparse in detail. All delegates accepted that this issue was not just about “little” Noranside; it was and is about sending a message that if closure of a public prison is to be accepted, it has to be after all alternative possibilities have been fully explored and discussed and that it is not driven by the goal of a quick win on savings.

We all know there is more to come, so we have to ensure that future savings driven decisions are made with all the facts presented and that the reasons are right. What always appears to be forgotten by management is that we are massively overcrowded as a service and if there are problems with the system progressing prisoners, which ultimately creates vacancies in the open prison estate…fi x the system, don’t close a public prison!

As a result of the Special Delegates Conference, the Scottish National Committee informed the Scottish Prison Service of the mandate which the POA had been given on the matter and the Chief Executive immediately postponed the closure decision for approximately one month. This was to allow the POA(S) to prepare a counter case. At this point, it does beg the question; why did the SPS recognise that there was a need to allow the POA(S) to put across their proposals for retention in detail, after they had announced their intention to close the establishment? Surely this should all have been looked at in great detail prior to any announcement. It was however, becoming clear that the SPS case for closure had not been looked at in any great detail.

Campaign

We also started to organise the campaign. Members lobbied their local MSPs (prisons are a devolved issue for the Scottish Parliament), and the Scottish National Committee began a petition to be passed to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. Over the course of the next three weeks members petitioned Local Councillors, Visiting Committees and Members of the Scottish Parliament. Petitions appeared in every local business; nationally our colleagues in other branches were collating signatures from their members/areas and the POA Vice Chair for Scotland appeared on national TV to reiterate
the folly of the proposed closure.

We worked on a daily basis with the Scottish National Committee (special thanks to Phil Fairlie and Andy Hogg) to prepare the case for retention to present to the board. Detailed counter arguments were put forward backed up with facts and statistics which were extremely powerful in pressing for retention.

Our committee organised a rally in the main local town, we arranged for this to be attended by 90 percent of our membership, MSPs and MPs of all political persuasion, local councillors, friends and families. We arranged for local and national radio coverage, local and national press coverage, and national TV coverage.

Continued press coverage carried on over the next few weeks, in advance of us taking a bus full of members to the Scottish Parliament along with the SNC to lobby MSPs of all parties and make them aware of the case for retention.

The petition supported by 4,300 signatures was finally presented to John Swinney the local MSP and Minister for Finance in the Scottish Government close to his local constituency office.

All of the above was achieved in the space of six weeks. Imagine what we could have done given more time? Mobilising a campaign and keeping momentum in the media and politically has proven to be successful so far

United in a common cause

On behalf of all the committee I would like to thank all the members both locally and nationally for their support and hard work, thanks also to the SNC. The campaign thus far has brought everyone together behind a common cause.

Representatives from the Scottish National Committee have since met with the Justice Secretary who, after listening to the campaign and case for retention made the announcement that he wanted the SPS to carry out a mini estates review to ensure all areas are explored in full prior to putting any case for closure forward to him. This is to be done as soon as possible after the Scottish elections on May 5th.

We are still here!

So the future is still uncertain, not a turn round in decision, but we are still here… on the 16th Dec we were closed! At least now we can have an input into ensuring all possibilities are investigated fully to find a better use of all our bed spaces, and that short sighted, ill-informed decisions are not allowed to be made by people who know nothing about what their prisons deliver and how it is delivered.

Hopefully we will be able to contribute to further issues of Gatelodge.

From all (STILL) behind
the barricades