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Prison officers are throwing their weight behind two parliamentary initiatives this month – Earl Attlee’s bid to ban the “facilitation of potting” and Grahame Morris MP’s Prisons (Violence) Bill, aka the “Safe Inside Law”
The POA Union is backing both legislative proposals as “crucial steps in the right direction” to tackle the long-running health and safety crisis in prisons, General Secretary Steve Gillan explained, adding that such new laws would “directly improve the lives of our members and other prison staff by reducing the risk of violence against them.”
Attacks on prison staff have soared over the past decade after austerity cuts led to thousands of officers losing their jobs – with over 86,000 cumulative years of prison officer experience lost since 2010, according to Government figures, despite recent recruitment drives. Assaults almost quadrupled between 2014 and 2019 – and, while covid restrictions have since reduced violence to 2017-levels, this is still 180% higher than in 2010.
The normalised workplace violence plus poor pay and an unrealistic pension age of 68 have triggered a prison officer retention crisis. To break this vicious circle of violence, the POA’s parliamentary allies have tabled two new important pieces of legislation.
Amendment 99 to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill tabled by Earl Attlee, the grandson of former prime minister Clement Attlee, will be debated in the House of Lords this Monday (10th January) and seeks to create a new offence of “facilitation of potting”, in which a prisoner “causes or permits their own urine or excrement to be intercepted without lawful reason or excuse”. The vile practice of “potting” has plagued the prison service for years but the problem is only getting worse – and this amendment, which is fully compatible with the Government’s new Prisons Strategy White Paper’s zero-tolerance approach to bad behaviour, will close a ludicrous loophole that allows criminals who supply their own urine or excrement for use in an attack against staff to escape punishment.
Easington Labour MP Grahame Morris will be presenting his Prisons (Violence) Bill to the Commons on Wednesday 19 January, directly after PMQs. The cross-party Bill seeks to place a statutory duty on the prison service and private prison operators to minimise violence, and to enshrine into law the Safe Inside Charter, developed by nine national prison unions including the POA, and other measures designed to maximise staff experience. Morris’s Bill also aligns with the new White Paper by holding governors directly accountable for staff safety.
POA General Secretary Steve Gillan said:
“Both of these proposed new laws are crucial steps in the right direction and have the potential to directly improve the lives of our members and other prison staff by reducing the risk of violence against them. And safer prisons for staff are safer for prisoners too
Everyone understands that prisons can be inherently violent places because they contain violent criminals who are kept, against their will, away from the public by using the threat of violence. But instead of shrugging their shoulders and treating extreme workplace violence as ‘business as usual’, ministers must make every effort to protect the brave women and men who protect the public from behind those high walls.
In particular, they need to do everything possible to eradicate the vile and disgusting practice of ‘potting’ – and Earl Attlee’s amendment would make sure anyone helping to prepare these cowardly attacks by contributing their bodily substances would face the full force of the law. On behalf of the POA and our members, I would like to thank Earl Attlee, Grahame Morris and all our other parliamentary allies for the tireless support they give to improving the working lives of prison officers.”
POA National Chair Mark Fairhurst said:
“These are much needed initiatives to reduce violence and protect prison staff. Vile potting assaults are one of the most abhorrent types of assault and warrant prosecutions, while the Safe Inside Charter will force prison managers to take the safety of their staff seriously. I am grateful to our parliamentary allies for their support.”
Notes for editors:
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.