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 large numbers of Prison Officers, one of its results was to withdraw from the Police and Prison staff the right to band 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 issues.

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 staff 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 part 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 staff 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.

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.

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. 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"

Because 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 over thirty years. This is largely due to the POA keeping faith with the terms and intentions of the agreement.

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 compensatory measures 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.

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 to operate the mechanisms set out in the JIRPA and the spirit in which it was intended to operate. During this period 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 several disputes between the Union and the employer with the employer consistently threatening and ultimately using the courts to resolve disputes. In the latter 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 and 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 to the current day the problems of the service have continued, with reductions in budgets exacerbating these problems. HMPPS has continued to impose change, whilst closing off existing ranks and introducing new grades 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 then 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.

Throughout its period of operation in private hands, HMP Birmingham had a significant number of problems. These included Key compromises, excessively high assaults levels, prisoner complaints and staffing problems. On the morning of 16th December 2016, HMP Birmingham experienced one of the worst prison riots in recent times. One of the main contributing factors to this incident was found to be chronic staff shortages and a breakdown in authority with increasing instability. In August 2018, the same week the Ministry of Justice released the report into the riot, whilst inspecting the prison, a number of cars belonging to the Chief inspector of Prisons team, were burned out in the car park of the establishment. The Government were forced to take back direct control of the prison eventually terminating the contract 7 years early.

HMP Oakwood in Featherstone, Staffordshire, England first opened in April 2012. Following a significant number of high-level meetings and discussions the Prison Operator, G4S, signed a Voluntary Recognition Agreement for its operational staff at Oakwood with the POA. This was the first privately operated prison recognition agreement and came on the back of several years’ partnership working between the POA and G4S on their Immigration and Detention Contracts.

The following year the POA signed its first recognition agreement with Sodexo when they were awarded a contract for the operation of HMP Northumberland, which had previously been operated as both Castington and Acklington.

2010 and 2011 saw the Government impose savage budget cuts on the Prison Service. These cuts saw the start of significant cuts being made to staffing levels across all publicly operated prisons. In an effort to halt these cuts and maintain the safety and security of prisons being compromised the POA entered into talks with the Service and Government on the problems being faced. One of the outcomes of those discussions was a new pay and conditions proposal entitled Fair and Sustainable. This was seen by many as the biggest and most important agreement since Fresh Start in 1987. The POA entered these talks to try and achieve the best outcome possible, without members suffering a detriment, any compulsory redundancies and Pay Protection for existing staff. All of these were actions that were threatened by Government during their policy of Austerity. Additionally, Government had repeatedly threatened mass Market Testing and Privatisation of the Service, which was also central to the discissions that took place. Once a final document and proposal was presented to the POA (along with a commitment to halt the Market Testing and Privatisation programme) the NEC put the proposal, firstly to a Special Delegates Conference and then to a ballot of the membership. In January 2012 the Government’s, Fair and Sustainable, proposals were accepted with over 80% voting to accept them.  These remain contentious issues amongst members but must be viewed against the backdrop of the very real threats being made at the time by the coalition Government.

Since 2010 we have seen a significant and deliberate prison closure plan imposed on the Prison Service by successive Governments. This plan has seen the closure of Ashwell, Latchmere House, Lancaster Castle, Wellingborough, Bullwood Hall, Canterbury, Gloucester, Kingston, Shepton Mallet, Shrewsbury, Blundeston, Dorchester, Reading, Northallerton, Holloway, Kennet, Glen Parva, Haslar, Dover and Blantyre House.Over the same period only three new prisons have been built (Thameside, Oakwood and Berwyn). The overall outcome of this closure programme and the building of only three new establishments is that the Prison Service has been forced to maintain a policy of overcrowding our prisons.

As has already been mentioned above, since 2010, successive Governments held to a policy of Austerity for the provision of public services. As a consequence, recruitment of prison officers dropped to negligible levels between 2010 and 2016. By September 2016 there were only 18,000 Uniformed Officer Grades and only 4,676 Operational Support Grades. In March 2010 there were 24.830 and 7,698. These staffing cuts have to be seen alongside the increase in prison population over this time of over 8,600. Following a hard-fought political campaign on the issue, the Government relented, and Prison Officer recruitment began again. By June 2020 Uniformed Officer numbers had increased by over 4,000 though OSG numbers had barely increased at all. Staffing numbers obviously remain well below the levels seen in previous years and the Union is committed to continuing to campaign for decent, secure and safe staffing levels in prisons throughout the country.

The POA continues to fight for the restoration of Trade Union Rights to all its members and this remains the union’s longest running campaign. 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.

2020 has been a year unlike any other in prison history. There was little doubt from day one that the pandemic could and would have devastating effects on the prison population and staff working within our prisons if swift and decisive action was not taken to prevent its spread. The POA worked closely with Prison Service management to ensure they introduced the most detailed, robust, safe working environment possible for our members. At the same time maintaining safe decent and secure regimes and conditions for those in our members care. The POA believe that had management, Government and the POA not worked together to implement the policies and procedures brought in during the first stage of the crisis, far mor lives would have been lost. As restrictions in the community were eased across the country, the pressure to ease the restrictions to prison regimes grew from many outside the Service. Against POA advice some prison did indeed loosen their control and unfortunately as the second wave spread within the community, our prisons have seen more positive cases in September and October than we have seen throughout the rest of this unprecedented crisis within our Service.

Scotland 

Prison officers in Scotland originally were given voice in 1920 through a Representative Board for Scottish prison officers, along the same lines as that which existed for officers in England and police councils.

It was in 1939 that the first branch of the POA in Scotland was formed following a long running struggle for the “Right to organise in a free association” which was finally won when the then Secretary of State for Home Affairs agreed to the abolition of the Representative Board machinery and gave formal recognition to the Prison Officers’ Association.

Scotland had an elected committee during this time but with very little by way of facility time or facilities to operate. Meetings and union business were often conducted in the officers own time, at local café’s or in their own homes as a meeting place.

Formation of the SPOA

In the decades that followed the Scottish members contributed to fees for membership of the TUC, had a seat on the Council of Civil Service unions, had the attendance of a full time POA official attend their conference, and also at the Annual Whitley council, to offer advice.

Scotland did not have a seat at the table of the NEC and in some ways were regarded as a large branch in its day-to-day functions. The frustrations around having no vote at annual conference and feeling like they had limited voice grew to the point that a motion to employ a full time official was debated and passed in 1971. This led to the Scottish membership supporting a motion (despite opposition from the Scottish NEC at the time) calling for Scotland to form an independent POA in Scotland, which led to the creation of the SPOA.

John Renton, who was the Scottish treasurer at the time leading up to the 1971 conference was subsequently appointed as the full time official in Scotland following the post being advertised and served with distinction as the SPOA General Secretary from 1971 until 1989.

The newly formed trade union went straight into a period of enormous challenges throughout the next decade and more, with overcrowding, widespread increases in violence, rioting, hostage taking, and the first incidents of organising industrial action all taking place throughout that period.

The 80’s however, were hardly any calmer or quieter, with widespread unrest and riots taking place across the UK. The highest profile, and most notorious of those in Scotland was in HMP Peterhead in 1987, where several officers were stabbed and badly injured, and officer Jackie Stuart was seen being dragged across the roof of the prison with a chain round his neck. The incident was ended by the SAS being sent in, after 5 days of the images being broadcast across the world.

Fresh Start/ Private prisons

Although the next period in the SPOA history was not consumed with matters as high profile as just described, it was hardly quiet. Fresh Start, which transformed the prison services across the UK came in 1987, and by the early 90’s we saw the first introduction of private prisons to Scotland with HMP Kilmarnock. We also saw the introduction of a new staffing structure review (SSR) which was a hugely contentious period in the service and again, brought significant change and challenges for the trade union to navigate. Around the same time saw the introduction of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act which, among other things made it illegal for prison officers to take any form of industrial action. The timing from the employers’ point of view could not have been more fortuitous given the strategy they went on to the use of the private sector as the benchmark the public sector was now to compete against for everything from staffing levels, to terms and conditions.

There were significant long running periods of very poor industrial relations between the SPOA and the SPS which came to a head in 2001.

POA/ SPOA Merger

Ahead of that, the SPOA and POA conducted roadshows across Scotland on the proposal to merge and form a single trade union. A ballot was then conducted of the members in Scotland who voted overwhelmingly in favour of the merger in 2000.

In 2001, following a period of fall outs and disputes between the POA and SPS, things came to a head on the 23rd April with the Scottish National Committee (SNC) meeting on the evening of the 22nd in Calder Road and agreeing that they were going to take all the branches out the next morning, on a ‘health and safety’ issue at HMP Noranside, following yet another imposition of a change in terms and conditions by the SPS.

Branch officials were phoned late into the night, and members of the SNC were dispersed around various prison car parks ahead of the early shift arriving, to keep the staff out and inform them we were ‘retreating to a place of safety’ until such times as we were given assurances by the SPS/Scottish government our voices were going to be heard.

By lunchtime that day government officials were on the phone offering an independent dispute mechanism as a resolution, which is what the dispute was centred around. Given the weather that day was one of the wettest of the year, with no let up in the rain, the POA were grateful for the resolution being found for more than one reason!

Partnership Working

The discussions that led to the VIRA in Scotland also led to a joint commitment between the SPS and trade unions to work in partnership, in a way that went far beyond anything that had ever been in place before. It saw a complete overhaul of the committee structures in the service, with TU officials playing a far bigger part in the strategy discussions, decision making and development of policies within the SPS. With that came a significant commitment in annual resources both at national level, and amongst our branch committee structures too.

Given the long period of poor industrial relations and in some cases distrust and scepticism on both sides, it was always going to be a challenge for all involved to make a success of the partnership, with quite a few stumbles along the way. Almost 20 years on, it is now simply recognised as how we conduct our business here in Scotland, and despite the odd motion to withdraw from partnership coming to Scottish conference over the years, the branches have always rejected those motions and the partnership agreement (known as Forward Together) is still how we conduct industrial relations today.

End of privatisation in Scotland

There are a couple of significant moments in history that have taken place in that last 13 years, that have had a significant impact on the circumstances here in Scotland. By 2007 we had a 2nd private prison about to come on board, following the Lab/Lib Dem coalition government in Scotland awarding HMP Addiewell to Sodexo services ltd. There was an ongoing competitive tendering process in place for HMP Low Moss, which was a public sector prison that was being rebuilt. Had it gone to the private sector (which at this point was inevitable) it would have left Scotland with the highest % of prisoners in the hands of the private sector anywhere within Europe. In 2007 the SNP came into government as a minority administration and immediately halted the process and placed the prison into the hands of the public sector. They did so with the proclamation of their opposition to private prisons, further stating that there would be no more private prisons while they were in government. They actively considered halting the contract for HMP Addiewell too at this stage, due to open the following year, but the penalty costs of such a move made it prohibitive.

Apart from the obvious benefit of such a move for the POA in Scotland, it was also an enormous game changer in the interactions and discussions between the trade union and employer in that, the continual threat of the private sector being used to drive down costs, demands, and expectations was no longer a strategy that could so easily be rolled out in negotiations.

Full Trade Union Rights

The other moment of enormous significance came in 2015, when the Scottish government through the then Justice Secretary Michael Matheson agreed to return full trade union rights to prison officers in Scotland. Following behind the scenes negotiations between the then Chair of the SNC, the Justice Secretary, and the Chief Executive of the SPS, Michael Matheson made the surprise announcement to the delegates at the Scottish annual conference in October of that year. It was greeted with a standing ovation at the time, and the Minister said afterwards “This announcement is an important step forwards and recognises the right of prison officers to be treated fairly and as equitably as other unions and workers in Scotland. It comes as a result of discussions between the trade union, SPS and the government and is testimony to the trust and relationships that have been built up”.

It is this step more than any other that sees the POA in Scotland able to engage in trade union matters on an equal footing once again, and without doubt was a key factor in the POA in Scotland being able to negotiate the biggest single 3 year pay deal for the membership anywhere in the public or private sector across the UK at that time in 2018.

Given the very unique environment in which prison officers work, that provision of an equal footing with other trade unions, the access to full trade union rights, is why the POA can often ‘punch above its weight’ in its dealings both with the employer and government of the day.


Northern Ireland 

The POA in Northern Ireland was formed in 1939 and the first Branch was set up at Crumlin Road Prison, Belfast.  A certificate of independence for the POA in Northern Ireland was obtained in 1940 from the Minister of Home Affairs.  The POA office, named Castell House in memory of Fred Castell MBE, the General Secretary of the POA after Harley Cronin, was opened in 1984 at the Prison Service College in Millisle, Co Down. Castell House was later moved to another property within the Prison Service College in 1999 and was officially opened by the then General Secretary, David Evans.  At present Establishments that the POA have recognition rights for include Hydebank Wood, Juvenile Justice Centre, HMP Maghaberry, HMP Magilligan, PECS group and the Prison Service College.

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, thirty one members of staff have paid the ultimate price of working within the Prison system in Northern Ireland in those troubled times with their lives, including the murder of a previous Area Secretary by terrorists coming out of a trade union meeting in Belfast, and the murder of a POA Area Vice Chairman.  The most recent murder of a colleague was in 2016. Their ultimate sacrifice is, however, only part of the story, a story that reveals brutal beatings by paramilitaries of both staff and their families.  Homes were firebombed with staff having to move in secret to safe houses to ensure that they were not killed or brutalised, under car booby trap devices were planted... the list of intimidation is endless.   Staff and their family members who were the victims of bombings, threats and brutality have been left totally incapacitated with a variety of physical and mental scars such as wheelchair bound, and many have left the Prison Service due to their physical or mental injuries. 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.

The POA in Northern Ireland continues to be the only trade union with negotiating rights on pay and conditions for Prison grades.

The discussions that led to the VIRA in Scotland also led to a joint commitment between the SPS and trade unions to work in partnership, in a way that went far beyond anything that had ever been in place before. It saw a complete overhaul of the committee structures in the service, with TU officials playing a far bigger part in the strategy discussions, decision making and development of policies within the SPS. With that came a significant commitment in annual resources both at national level, and amongst our branch committee structures too.

Given the long period of poor industrial relations and in some cases distrust and scepticism on both sides, it was always going to be a challenge for all involved to make a success of the partnership, with quite a few stumbles along the way. Almost 20 years on, it is now simply recognised as how we conduct our business here in Scotland, and despite the odd motion to withdraw from partnership coming to Scottish conference over the years, the branches have always rejected those motions and the partnership agreement (known as Forward Together) is still how we conduct industrial relations today.

 

POA in Secure Health Care 

The POA owes a considerable debt of gratitude to the forefathers of the Union based at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Broadmoor opened in 1863 and played a pivotal part in the formation of the POA which became a recognised staff association in 1939.

The National Health Service Act of 1946 transferred ownership of Rampton and Moss Side to the Ministry of Health and the Criminal Justice Act of 1948 brought Broadmoor under the direct responsibility of the Board of Control and under the ownership of the Ministry of Health. The POA became active on all three sites and branches from both female and male sides were brought into the POA at Moss Side and Rampton. The POA was the only recognised trade union representing staff within Special Hospitals.

The establishment of a National Whitley between the Prison Officers' Association and the Department of Health occurred in 1948. This became the national negotiating forum for terms and conditions for staff working in the Special Hospitals.

Throughout the 1960's the Special Hospitals saw a huge increase in patients being referred to them. This resulted in overcrowding with reduced access within the resources available. These matters were raised by the POA at all levels of management and with the Government of the day.

The Special Hospitals continued to cause concern and although successive Governments were increasingly committed to the development of beds in Regional Secure Units, these did not materialise. Along with pressure groups the POA continued to press for better conditions within the Special Hospitals.

The POA continued to grow in strength and influence and began to use its ability to counteract the pressures placed upon its members from both internal and external sources.

Park Lane Hospital was commissioned and opened as the fourth Special Hospital in England in 1984. it was for male patients only, and was to assist with the overcrowding at Broadmoor. Park Lane introduced care and treatment on therapeutic community lines within the requirement of secure conditions. Park lane and Moss Side Hospitals amalgamated in 1990 to become Ashworth Special Hospital.

The POA within Special Hospitals continued to face huge pressure for change without the necessary resources being made available by Government and the Department of Health.

The Central Committee for Special Hospitals became the most prominent trade union forum within secure psychiatric provision.

A report on the Management of the Special Hospitals was published in 1989. This identified that the strength of the POA was such that one option to reduce POA input was for the amalgamation within the wider NHS and for the recognition of other NHS unions for consultation purposes. The Olliff report became the template of the Special Hospital Services Authority as the managing body of the four Special Hospitals.

Following a Channel Four programme in 1991 a public Inquiry was established to investigate complaints by patients at Ashworth. The Inquiry recommendations included the introduction of "24 Hour Care". This meant that no patients detained in a Special Hospital were to be locked in their rooms at night. The POA objected to this strategy until the correct resources were available.

Hospital Chief Executives ignored any objections and allowed all patients to be unlocked 24 hours a day. Patient treatment programmes were severely effected due to disrupted sleep patterns. There was an increase in both physical and mental abuse from patients. In 1997 a Judicial Review was established at Ashworth to deal with the failure of treatment programmes with patients suffering from Personality Disorder. The Inquiry covered all aspects of security and treatment, as well as conditions for patients. There was evidence of peadophile activity, Pornography, credit card and mail order fraud, use of illicit drugs and abuse of computer systems by the patient population. The management and management systems failure was also subject to review.

The SHSA attempted to reduce the influence of the POA in the High Secure Service. This Special Health Authority was established with an intended life span of 3 – 5 years. It lasted from 1990 to 1995. At a subsequent Judicial Inquiry in 1997/8, to which the POA gave evidence, it was clearly identified that many of the problems in High Secure Hospitals were due to a central mismanagement by the SHSA, and were they still in existence the Executive and Directors would have been accountable.

The POA have never opposed change. What we have always said is that change must always be properly resourced. If it is not then the consequences for both staff and patients can be extreme.

The POA remains the largest Union at the four Special Hospitals, Ashworth, Broadmoor, Rampton and the State Hospital at Carstairs in Scotland and has a growing membership in many Regional (Medium) Secure Units throughout the country. In recent times the name Special Hospitals was amended at Annual Conference to reflect the outstanding professional work that is delivered in the dangerous and violent environments. The term Secure Psychiatric Workers is reflective of the work that is delivered on a daily basis.

The POA remains loyal to this section of the membership and continue to work with other partners and agencies and organisations to achieve change.

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.