PRISON governors are devastated by the “complete decline” of Britain’s criminal justice system, they said yesterday.
After riot squads were summoned to an English prison, the Mount in Hertfordshire, for the second day running, Prison Governors’ Association (PGA) president Andrea Albutt hit out at the “unacceptable stress and anxiety” faced by jail chiefs.
“We know many prisons are in crisis and I deliberately use that term because it can’t be dressed up in any other way,” she wrote in a letter to PGA members.
“The recent increase in concerted indiscipline is of grave concern.
“The rise in our population, unforeseen by the statisticians in the Ministry of Justice, has left us with virtually no headroom in prison spaces. The instability we are seeing is clearly linked to a poor regime.”
The Prison Officers’ Association, which represents rankand-file guards, has repeatedly voiced concern at declining staff levels, overcrowding and escalating violence in jails.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said: “This crisis has been created by the disastrous policies of the Conservative government. Prison officer numbers have been slashed, while overcrowding has risen.
“The situation cannot be allowed to continue. Prisoners are not being rehabilitated, and this is putting the public at risk.”
Zubaida Haque, a research associate at race-equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, warned that staff shortages were worsening systemic discrimination against prisoners from ethnic minorities.
Dr Haque said that an increase in prison guards’ movement between wings preventing them familiarising with and gaining the trust of prisoners and that rookie officers were more likely to resort to force against black prisoners rather than attempting to de-escalate difficult situations.
“This creates a negative spiral that adds to the crisis that the Prison Governors’ Association has highlighted,” she added.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We know that our prisons have faced a number of long-standing challenges, which is why we have taken immediate action to boost prison officer numbers and have created Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service.
“We need to create calm and ordered environments to help ensure effective rehabilitation and we continue to work closely with the unions and all staff to help achieve these vital reforms and make prisons places of safety and reform.”