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As a Member of Parliament, I have become increasingly concerned over violence in prisons since hearing from local officers about the appalling and growing dangers they face at work.
I also hear from the POA and other prison unions, both directly and through the work of the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group (JUPG) and the Joint Unions in Prisons Alliance (JUPA), and the message is clear – the Government and your employers are not doing enough to keep you “safe inside”. I believe they must be made to, by changing the law if necessary.
It is well understood that reckless austerity cuts to staffing a decade ago triggered a safety and security crisis across the entire prison estate. Prison violence has soared as levels of staff experience have plummeted, which has created a vicious circle of violence and a staff retention crisis that gets worse each year.
The Prisons Minister recently confirmed to me that total officer experience levels continue to drop and are now almost 87,000 years below what they were in 2010 – and who can blame officers for voting with their feet when the employer treats workplace violence as business as usual?
Although the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 sets out the “duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees”, this hasn’t been enough to force the Government, HMPPS and the private operators into making the urgent investment needed to tackle this crisis. Tougher laws are needed if ministers and management are to be made to take their duties of care seriously.
That is why I have introduced the Prisons (Violence) Bill, which would – if it became law – establish a duty on HMPPS and private prison operators to minimise violence in prisons. Along with practical proposals for reducing assaults and rebuilding staff experience levels, my draft law contains measures that should make it easier to sue employers if they cut corners with health or safety.
At its heart, my Bill would make the Government shine a spotlight on both prison violence and the causes of prison violence, with management given targets to reduce these levels and financial sanctions if they fail to do so. I have specified five targets, but more could be added as the Bill progresses – safety of prison staff, safety of prisoners, levels of staffing, levels of staff retention and levels of staff experience.
My Bill proposes that the money raised from this should go to “additional funding for aid therapies, treatments and rehabilitation for prison staff assaulted at work” because I have heard directly from officers how rehabilitative services are often too little, too late, and this extra funding might help more staff access better treatment more quickly. The fines would also go towards “targeted pay awards to encourage staff retention at failing prisons” – in effect, danger money for working at dangerous jails.
It would also enshrine JUPA’s Safe Inside Prisons Charter into law, because I find it astonishing that HMPSS is still blocking these common-sense principles to improve workplace safety for all prison staff – both directly and indirectly employed – with basic tools such as a single reporting system for all assaults on workers that can be accessed inside and out of the workplace.
My Bill is co-sponsored by members of all the major parties but, despite this, won’t become law without Government backing, which is why I’m asking you to contact your local MP – especially if they’re a Tory – and urge them to lobby ministers to give Parliamentary time to this “Safe Inside Law”.
It’s quite a challenge to change the law, unless you’re the Government, but I believe my Bill is so reasonable that nobody in their right mind could argue against it. I have also tabled Early Day Motion 949 on Prison Violence supporting the principles behind my Bill, so please also ask your MP to sign that – and remember to let the union know how you get on!
Read the text of Grahame’s Prisons (Violence) Bill here: https://bills. parliament.uk/bills/3100 and his EDM here: https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/59447/prison-violence
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.