Charley Allan reports on how 2022 is shaping up to be a year of new prison legislation

Already this year there have been some key pieces of prison-related legislation introduced in Parliament – and after the recent Prisons Strategy White Paper we can expect more proposals for new laws to come soon. Grahame Morris writes in this edition about his new Prisons (Violence) Bill, which would enshrine key targets including staff safety and retention into law, with financial penalties against HMPPS and private prison operators for failing them going on rehab facilities and danger money for staff in violent jails.

It’s hard for anyone to argue against this very reasonable Bill – but the problem is that, without the Government giving it parliamentary time to be debated, it will just sit on the agenda and never be reached. That’s why it’s important for POA members to be in touch with their MPs – and to ask them to lobby ministers to give time to Grahame’s Bill, or at least support the principles behind it.

Over in the House of Lords, Earl Attlee – grandson of the man who many consider this country’s greatest Prime Minister – has attempted to outlaw a new offence of “facilitation of potting”, having seen the Government reject his previous amendment to criminalise the act of potting itself on the grounds that this disgusting practice was already covered by the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. 

Earl Attlee’s new amendment to the widely hated and feared Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill instead focused on any prisoner who “causes or permits their own urine or excrement to be intercepted without lawful reason or excuse” and proposed an additional sentence of up to two years for allowing bodily substances to be used in such an attack.

Moving this amendment in January, Earl Attlee pointed out to Peers: “We all owe a great debt of gratitude to prison officers and prison governors, who we charge with looking after and protecting us from some of the most dangerous, wicked and obnoxious members of our society. We owe it to them to make sure that, if they are assaulted doing their duty, we will back them up and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.”

He continued: “If we fail to do so, there will be at least two serious consequences: first, we will experience difficulties in retaining the best possible prison officers; secondly, the remaining prison officers will be demotivated, less willing to ensure full compliance and less willing to ensure that prisons are the safe and humane establishments that we all want them to be.”

Rejecting the amendment, Minister Lord Wolfson of Tredegar insisted that “doing those preparatory acts is already a crime under Sections 44 to 46 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 or possibly under the Criminal Attempts Act 1981”, adding that “the penalties for those preparatory offences are the same as those for the substantive offence”.

As is customary in the Upper House when it’s clear that a vote can’t be won without wider backing against the power of the Government whip, Earl Attlee withdrew his amendment – but not before winning some significant concessions.

His previous amendment had included a legal requirement for the Government to “ensure that sufficient suitable kits for collecting evidence samples are available within the Prison Service”, to which the Minister had admitted in October: “I do not understand that at the moment there is a problem there, but I am happy to discuss the point further.”

Returning to spit kits in January, Earl Attlee described Lord Wolfson’s previous comments as “a bit optimistic” and explained that “a subsequent written answer revealed that none of the several prisons that I asked about appeared to be issuing spit kits”.

The Minister responded by claiming that “some prisons already purchase spit kits locally as a matter of course, but we will consider further whether there is a need to make them available to prisons nationally, as part of our focus on reducing crime in prisons”. And he added that a new “crime in prisons task force” was being set up, which would “look specifically at potting offences”.

The proof will of course be in the pudding – will spit kits start to be issued widely and will potting offences be more aggressively prosecuted? We will really only find out by POA members telling the union what’s going on.

And although these two legislative initiatives may not themselves reach the statute books, Parliamentarians can use them as the basis for further amendments to any new prison laws coming out of the White Paper, which is the traditional Government method for laying the groundwork for new legislation.

Again, these are all totally reasonable demands, and the arguments against them simply don’t hold up to any scrutiny. We can win the debate – and with the right pressure we might be able to win the votes, too.

Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.