Justice Secretary Truss faces fury as chaos erupts in Britain’s prisons with second riot in a week
JUSTICE Secretary Liz Truss was told to “get a grip or move aside” yesterday from the crisis engulfing Britain’s prisons.
Prison Officers Association (POA) general secretary Steve Gillan led a searing attack on government failure to deal with a “prison service at crisis point.”
His broadside followed the second prison riot in less than a week. Sixty inmates at Swaleside in Kent took control of a wing and lit fires on Thursday night before riot-trained officers were deployed to bring the situation under control.
The incident followed a similar riot at the G4S-run Birmingham prison which saw hundreds of prisoners go on the rampage.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon demanded to know what action Ms Truss had taken in response to an Independent Monitoring Board report that found Swaleside prison was unsafe, citing staff shortages as the major cause. Mr Gillan told the Star that it was time for Ms Truss to “get a grip” on the prison crisis or “step aside.”
He said the recent disturbances have been coming for the last six years. “It’s time for them to stop playing political games and to work to find a solution to the prison crisis,” Mr Gillan said.
Prison officers overwhelmingly rejected a pay and pensions deal earlier this week and Mr Gillan urged the government not to ignore the voices of union members who walked out in protest over health and safety concerns in November.
But he said that he would be taking “no lessons” from former home secretaries Ken Clarke and Jacqui Smith or former deputy PM Nick Clegg following a recent letter they sent to the Times calling for the prison population to be halved. “Why didn’t they do it when they were in power?” he asked.
“They created the current climate in the prison system. It’s very easy for them to comment now they are not in office but they all presided over massive funding cuts to the prison service.
“Morale among staff is pretty low. There are now 8,000 fewer prison officers, a fall of 30 per cent, since 2010.”
Labour peer and former Liberty director Baroness Shami Chakrabarti blamed the escalating crisis on “an authoritarian arms race” between political parties as they compete to be the toughest on crime.
In an interview with Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday, Ms Chakrabarti slammed the role of private companies like G4S in running prisons.
She said: “We need to ask questions about whether it is right that there are companies profiting from incarceration … I question whether there should be commercial incentives to lock up more and more people.”
Ms Chakrabarti said people want to see “a criminal justice system that maintains the rule of law, keeps the peace and offers reasonable opportunity for meaningful rehabilitation for those who need to be imprisoned.
Mr Gillan said that instead of austerity and cuts the government should invest in “decent jobs, decent education and decent housing” which would help prevent an increasing prison population.
“There is a crisis this Christmas in British prisons and we have to call for calm because I’m sure that it’s a very, very miserable time to be inside a prison, whether you are working there or incarcerated there.”
A Prison Service spokesperson said: “The challenges in our prisons are longstanding and won’t be solved overnight but the Justice Secretary is committed to making sure our prisons are stable while we deliver wholesale reforms to the prison estate to help offenders turn their lives around and reduce reoffending.”