WARNINGS that the Mount prison was a tinderbox prior to two days of riots were ignored, the Prison Officers Association said yesterday.
More than 200 inmates armed with weapons were involved in disturbances that saw inmates seize control of a wing of the prison near Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, yesterday.
This followed an episode involving similar numbers on Monday night which was resolved shortly after 10pm.
The union blamed government funding cuts for serious staff shortages and a recruitment and retention crisis leading to increased levels of violence at the Mount, a male prison for category-C inmates — those who cannot be trusted in open prison but who have been recognised as being unlikely to make any attempt at escape.
Riot-trained officers were drafted in for the second day running to deal with the escalating disturbance as fire, police and ambulance crews stood by outside.
No staff or inmates were injured according to the Ministry of Justice, which said the latest incident was contained in the late afternoon.
In recent weeks, prisoners at the Mount have been locked in their cells all day, according to prison affairs academic Alex Cavendish. He also reported complaints of inmates not being allowed to shower or make phone calls.
On Monday, the prison’s independent monitoring board published its annual review, saying that the Mount was struggling with staff shortages and other recent reports cited problems there including increased levels of violence and drugs, the POA said.
The union said the whole prison system is under increasing pressure as it struggles to recruit and retain staff.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon warned yesterday that a “high proportion of staff [are] inexperienced.” And he added that it was “deeply, deeply concerning” that every prison inspected for fire safety over the last 12 months has failed the tests.
The POA’s acting national chairman Mark Fairhurst said government cuts had led to the loss of about 8,000 staff since 2010 despite an increase in prison population.
He said a recent announcement to increase the number of officers was “too little too late” and came in the context of the long-standing 1 per cent public-sector pay cap.
Mr Fairhurst noted: “Staff morale is at an all-time low and, as fast as the service recruit new staff, staff leave in their droves,” blaming it on “adverse working conditions, the violence that they face and the poor salary.
“It’s an epidemic throughout the country and we’ve been telling the employer for years now that they need to sit down with us and restructure the whole salary scales.”