POA Timeline


First issue of Police and Prison Officer Magazine


POA formed as Trade Union

Harley Cronin first General Secretary

AJ Rickard first National Chairman

POA Gatelodge magazine produced

World War II broke out


Prisons bombed across the country


Churchill elected Prime Minister


End of World War II


re-introduce plans to abolish Corporal Punishment


Prison Officers recruited to work in New Zealand

Constant struggle to improve terms and conditions


Death penalty abolished for men and women

High profile escapes from prisons


First members of staff in Northern Ireland murdered

POA considers industrial action


New style uniform introduced

First female member of NEC elected

Fresh Start introduced


Inquiry into IRA jail break in Northern Ireland

First female vice chair elected

Escape form Whitemoor

Manchester riot and copycat riots

Woodcock inquiry

Fallon inquiry

Lord Justice  Woolf inquiry

First private jail

Criminal Justice and Public Order Act

Market testing

Trade Union rights stripped away


First national strike 29th August 2007

First black National Chairman elected

POA in court battles

Fitness test imposed

Leave to hours imposed

POA History in Prisons

The vaults of POA history reveal an unprecedented struggle to obtain recognition as a Trade Union from the employer. After a number of rejections and refusal to accept that prison officers had legitimate grievances, an underground magazine was produced familiarly known as "The Red-Un". Its circulation embraced colleagues both in Northern Ireland and in State Mental Hospitals and captured the mood of officers generally, leading in 1916 to the formation of the Prison Officers Federation - the same year it affiliated to the Labour Party.

In 1919 there was a strike among members of the Police Force. At the time, the Police and Prison Officers Federation were organised in a body known as, the "Police and Prison Officers Union."

Whilst the strike did not affect any considerable numbers of Prison Officers, one of its results was to withdraw from the Police and Prison staffs the right, which other Public Servants continued to enjoy, of banding together in free organisations to protect and advance their working interests.

Representative Boards took the place of the free organisations in the prisons and related services. These Representative Boards were part of the administrative machine.

They were financed, administered and controlled by the employer; there was no appeal against the decisions of the Home Office on any staff issue.

Not unnaturally, the staff serving on these Representative Boards worked under the greatest of difficulties. The risk of victimisation was always present. There is no doubt that the continued unfairness felt by Officers fuelled their determination to change this blatant act of unbridled power and victimisation.

For nearly eighteen years, the staff of these services fought their principled battle for better conditions against these reactionary influences, a battle in which the prison staffs were isolated by administrative decree from their colleagues elsewhere in the Public Services and the Organised Trade Union Movement outside.

In the early days of 1938 a few stalwarts decided that drastic measures had to be taken, if they were to achieve any sense of fairness for their colleagues. There followed a series of secret meetings with leaders of the then Civil and Clerical Association. It was agreed to formalise a demand to the then Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, that Prison Officers should have the right to appeal to an independent Arbitration Board against the refusal of the employers to improve intolerably bad conditions.

This demand was well timed. The then Home Secretary had, on more than one occasion, publicly announced his strong desire to improve the conditions under which prisoners were detained and his intention to introduce measures of reform. He was reminded that the staff, as well as the prisoners, had grievances. It was rightly suggested to him that the zeal for prison reform could, and should, also be utilised to improve the conditions of the men and women on who fell the very difficult task of controlling and administering these penal establishments. The Home Secretary yielded to the reasonable demands for Arbitration.

In the early period of 1938 the staff of the prison and allied services realised that, whatever material gains might be achieved, the real fight would not be won until they had achieved for themselves the right to organise in a free Association, which, unhampered by employer control, would provide the medium through which the legitimate grievances and aspirations of the staffs could be expressed.

That right was finally won in May 1939, when the Secretary of State formally agreed to the abolition of the Representative Board machinery and the recognition of the Prison Officers' Association.

Following civil rights marches in 1969 the Province became embroiled in a battle between Paramilitary groups. The history of this troubled isle is well documented but few people appreciate the sacrifice made by prison staff from those early days to the present day.

In addition to the one recorded death in 1942 twenty nine members of staff have paid the ultimate price of working within the prison system in Northern Ireland in these troubled times. Their ultimate sacrifice is, however, only part of the story; a story that reveals brutal beatings by paramilitaries of both staff and their families.

Where homes were fire bombed with staff having to move in secret to safe houses to ensure that they were not killed or brutalised. Where staff remain the victims of bombings and brutality that have left them totally incapacitated as wheelchair victims and where many have left the Prison Service due to their physical or mental injury.

It is to these men and women that the United Kingdom Government owes a considerable debt. Their sacrifice must not only be recognised but rewarded.

Without doubt, prisoner disturbances in the early 1970's had a significant influence on industrial relations in the Prison Service. These followed recruitment campaigns to meet the new demands of security following the Lord Mountbatten Report of 1966.

The tightening of security in the late 1960's resulted in considerable prisoner unrest. Governors at the time were leaderless and consequently had to meet this unparalleled prisoner challenge without direction from Headquarters. Not unnaturally, they turned to the staff and POA leaders at local level to contain and resolve matters. Finally, having done so, Governors and POA Committees largely resolved other problems at local level.

In late 1986 negotiations began over what was to become the Fresh Start Agreement. In its introduction the Prison Department stated that Fresh Start was designed to solve long standing problems in the structure and organisation of the Service.

It aimed to create:-

    * a more flexible approach to working practices
    * a more rational management structure
    * a more rewarding job and improved conditions of service for staff

The Fresh Start experience was soured by the Prison Department's failure to ensure sufficient staff on duty to provide for inmate regime activities. This whole area was the subject of considerable disagreement between the two sides.

In the Lord Justice Woolf Report this matter is analysed thoroughly. The conclusions of that Committee were as follows:

"The clear impression which emerges from studying the relevant documents is that, in order to obtain approval of a package of much needed reforms, the Prison Service was not anxious to draw attention to the extent of the efficiencies involved. In our view this was unfortunate. It contributed in part to the misunderstandings which existed across the board amongst staff and governors as to what was involved in implementing the "the Fresh Start package"

As a consequence of the Prison Department's failure to provide the staffing levels required staff throughout the prison system lost confidence in Prison Service officials both locally and nationally.

Despite all these difficulties the Fresh Start Agreement has endured for fourteen years. This is largely due to the POA keeping faith with the terms and intentions of the agreement.

The Northern Ireland Prison Service and the Northern Ireland POA developed their own agreement commonly known as The Way Forward.

In July 1988 the Conservative Government embarked on a consultation exercise about the use of the Private Sector in the running of remand prisons. All Prison Service Unions and prison reform groups unanimously opposed this proposal. Despite this opposition, in 1991 the government introduced the Criminal Justice Act which allowed for the contracting out of both the running of remand prisons and escort duties to private companies. The Government of the day drove this policy of a private escort service despite a POA proposal that the work could be undertaken by establishing a cadre of Auxiliary Officers from within the Service.

In 1994 the Courts decided that under Section 8 of the Prisons Act 1952 prison officers had powers, authority, protection and privileges of a constable. Essentially, this meant that it was illegal to induce Prison Officers to take industrial action and break their contract of employment. Because Prison Officers were in 'Prison Service' as described in the Section 280 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, the POA could not be a Trade Union. Consequently, the Certification Officer advised the POA of his intention to remove its Certificate of Qualification. This Legislation also affected Northern Ireland and Scotland.

On 3rd November 1994 the Government passed the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. Section 126 of the Act gave the POA the status and immunities of an Independent Trade Union. Section 127 made it unlawful for Prison Officers to take industrial action. Section 128 made provision for regulations to be made to establish new procedures to determine the pay and conditions of Governors and Prison Officers.

The election of the Labour Government in 1997 enabled the POA to move forward with an agreement, which would provide for the withdrawal of the provisions of Section 127 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and to provide for a Pay Review Body to meet the needs of Section 128 of the Act.

As the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act affected Northern Ireland and Scotland as well as England and Wales, in both the public and private sectors, the POA have maintained that resolution of these problems should cover all of these areas.

In 2000, the POA and the SPOA merged, forming one single union representing Prison Officers and related grades across the whole of the United Kingdom.

Considerable effort was required by all parties to bring to fruition the declaratory order which established a Voluntary Agreements on how industrial relations should be conducted, the withdrawal of the provisions of Section 127 and for the introduction in 2001 of a Pay Review Body, for public sector staff in England, Wales and Scotland.

In 2004 the Joint Industrial Relations Procedural Agreement (JIRPA) replaced the Voluntary Agreement (VA). This year also saw the disapplication of Section 127 from public sector staff in England, Wales and Scotland. Although the legislative provisions remained for public sector staff in Northern Ireland and private sector staff across the whole of the country.

Following the introduction of this new agreement it was obvious to the POA that the employer was either unwilling or unable operate the mechanisms set out in the JIRPA in the spirit in which it was intended to operate. During this period of time the Prison Service increased the use of paid additional hours working for officer grades, with the introduction of the Contract Supplementary Hours scheme. This scheme led to a number of disputes between the union and the employer with the employer consistently threating and ultimately using of the courts to resolve disputes. In the later months of 2006 the POA issued proceedings against the Prison Service in the High Court for serious breaches of the JIRPA by local management.  The POA’s claims were proven following a ruling on the 1st May 2007, on the 8th May the POA National Chairman wrote to the Director General giving the requisite 12 months’ notice to withdraw from the JIRPA .

By the middle on 2007, industrial relations had deteriorated to such a poor state that the Union was forced to call its first national strike for prison staff in England and Wales on the 29th August 2007.

Exactly a year to the day of the POA giving notice to withdraw from the JIRPA, Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Justice, reintroduced the provisions to Section 127 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act to Prison Officers in England and Wales.

From 2007 up to and including 2011 the problems of the service have continued, but the reduction to the MOJ budget have exacerbated these problems leading to further reductions to prison budgets. NOMS has continued to impose change, whilst closing off existing ranks and introducing new grades in an attempt to meet the revised budgets. The reduction of front line staff has resulted in an increase in the level of serious assaults on prison officers and other grades of staff.

As a final act of betrayal the Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw announced in April 2009, that he had decided to Market Test two publicly operated prisons HMP Birmingham and Wellingborough, neither of which had previously gone through this process. The POA strongly objected to the process and challenged the announcement at every level, but this was a political and not an economic decision. Despite the Labour Party losing in the 2010 election, the Market Testing/ Competition Dialogue process continued and as a result HMP Birmingham was handed to G4S, by the new Conservative led Coalition Government. The current Secretary of State for Justice Ken Clarke had set out his views for the justice system which involved wholesale Market Testing and Prison closures as part of the wider reform process. Thankfully his plans have been reversed but the threat of further Market Testing and Prison closures remain.

The POA continues to fight for the restoration of Trade Union Rights to all its members. This remains the union’s longest running campaign and the union’s case to the ILO was heard in 2011and at this hearing the ILO was critical of the UK government. Following the ILO hearing the union’s case to Europe continues as we fight to restore our trade union rights.

The Union remains of the view that the incarceration of citizens is the responsibility of the state and should not be used as a commercial opportunity for private enterprise.