Officers ‘won’t tolerate having heads kicked in any more’
IF MINISTERS won’t act on Britain’s prison meltdown the union will, the Prison Officers Association (POA) declared yesterday.
General secretary Steve Gillan said he was not prepared to let his members “get their heads kicked in every day” amid spiralling prison violence, throwing down the gauntlet to ministers over their chaotic mismanagement of the penal system.
Prison service employees, along with the police and armed forces, are banned from taking industrial action.
But Mr Gillan exclusively told the Star that the time had come when, irrespective of the ban, “enough is enough.”
His comments came as new Ministry of Justice figures showed that violent assaults on staff and inmates in prisons in England and Wales had reached an alarming level of around 65 per day.
The POA has continually raised concerns about the state of the prison system since 2010 but feels these alarm bells have been ignored or brushed aside.
In the last six years the service has haemorrhaged 10,000 experienced officers and a much-vaunted recruitment drive has not filled the gaping hole.
The statistics were “yet more evidence of the crisis that has developed in our prisons under the Tories,” shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said.
“With thousands more assaults, self-harm incidents and record deaths in prison, violence is at record levels.
“Even the Ministry of Justice itself now concedes that the rise in assaults since 2012 has ‘coincided with major changes to the regime … including staff reductions’.”
Mr Gillan said the POA was calling for an urgent meeting with newly appointed Justice Secretary Liz Truss but that, so far, she had shown no more sign of understanding the complexities of the situation than her predecessors.
“We have been raising this issue since 2010,” he said. “The time has come when the government needs to sit up and take notice.
“It is decimating the service and we cannot stand back when our members are getting their heads kicked in every day or murders of inmates are occurring as happened at Pentonville this week.”
Referring to the recruitment policy, Mr Gillan was scathing.
“Since 2010 we have lost 10,000 uniformed staff,” he said. “The irony is that we are continuing to lose staff faster than they can recruit.”
And it is hardly surprising uptake is low, he suggested.
“Who would want to take on a job where they are treated so badly by their employers, put up with the constant risk of violence and the fact that they get the blame from all sides when things inevitably go wrong?”
In conclusion Mr Gillan said: “The Secretary of State should be making heads roll over this — or quit herself, but she is not doing either.
“The prison service is in crisis and we have been warning the government about this for six years now. If the government is not going to act, the POA will.”