19 Days Remaining

Thursday 20th
posted by Morning Star in Editorial

PRISON officers and their union POA have long warned about the dangers of violence in their workplaces and their worries are echoed now by prison governors.

This is no time, in the wake of one death and two critical woundings in Pentonville jail, for ministerial hand-wringing, crocodile tears or bland expressions of concern.

The Prison Governors Association (PGA) demand for a public inquiry into escalating levels of violence, suicide and self-harm in the overstretched system must be agreed without delay.

People sent to jail to suffer deprivation of liberty as punishment for their crimes are effectively wards of the state.

Prison staff are charged with responsibility for protecting society by holding criminals securely but also with looking after those placed in their care.

They cannot carry out these dual responsibilities if government is intent on cutting finance spent on these essential tasks, especially in outdated Victorian facilities that ought to have been replaced.

Unfortunately, neoliberal parliamentary parties have prioritised their search for ways to justify funding reductions rather than honour their responsibilities to society, including those behind walls.

Governments over decades have cosied up to the right-wing media, declaring “tough” intentions, warning that prisoners won’t be mollycoddled, parroting meaningless slogans such as “prison works” and looking to slash public spending to pay for reductions in direct taxation.

Long-serving prison staff have been encouraged to retire from the service as a cost-cutting measure, leaving outnumbered and less experienced colleagues to cope.

Reformers such as the Howard League have urged governments to learn from examples in northern Europe where expensive investment in prisoner rehabilitation pays dividends in the long run.

To their discredit, Tories, Liberal Democrats and New Labour have preferred to direct their gaze to the US where the private sector runs the prison network very profitably as prisoner numbers rise.

Prison privatisation in Britain has followed that same disastrous pattern.Low staff-to-prisoner ratios are not simply about personal security for everyone in a prison.

They also bring restrictions on exercise, free association and education which cause frustration, anger and violence.

Governors can see clearly the bitter fruits of the dead-end policies forced on them by politicians and, in common with prison officers, experience physical attacks, as at HMP Wayland in Norfolk in August when governor Paul Cawkwell was attacked and put into hospital.

Their call for a public inquiry into the rising tide of violence in our prisons — what causes it and how to end it — has to be supported.

Rail shambles

MANAGING director Phil Verster’s admission that ScotRail should be in a “better place with train punctuality performance” merits first prize in a competition in stating the bleeding obvious.

His assertion, however, that the company is making an “incredible” effort to improve matters comes straight out of La La Land.

The franchise handed to Abellio, the international arm of the Dutch national rail operator, by the Scottish National Party government two years ago has been an utter shambles, offering a blend of lateness and cancellation that would be unacceptable in the Netherlands.

National rail operators from the Netherlands, Germany, France and Belgium have grown fat on easy profits gleaned from privatisation of Britain’s railways.

The Scottish government ought to have bucked the privatisation fetish by running ScotRail for the passengers rather than the privateers.

Labour at Westminster is pledged to rail renationalisation. How long before Scottish Labour and the SNP grasp the anti-privatisation nettle?