A PERFECT storm of cuts and overcrowding has left prisoners more likely to die behind bars than they were five years ago, shadow prisons minister Jo Stevens warned yesterday.
The Cardiff Central MP highlighted that swingeing £900 million budget cuts since 2010 have put both prisoners and prison officers at risk.
“We’ve seen five disastrous years of prison policy with staff cuts while the prison population soared,” she said.
“As a result, homicides in prisons are at record levels and there are more victims of assault both for prisoners and prison officers.
“We don’t just have a crisis but a prisons scandal with a prison closure programme introduced when populations are rising.”
The former Thompsons solicitor said prison violence can be no more devastatingly demonstrated than by the “beyond serious” situation at Wormwood Scrubs prison last week.
Wormwood Scrubs delegate Matt Wood explained how prison officers walked out after finding large caches of weapons following a spate of attacks on staff.
“We called an emergency meeting outside the prison where we agreed that until assurances are made we would not return,” he said.
However, the prison’s governor and the National Offender Management Service initially failed to acknowledge a single issue they raised.
Instead they threatened staff with an injunction for taking industrial action, which Mr Wood said was “frankly disgraceful.”
He said: “One of the officers assaulted has only been three weeks in the job.
“The situation at Wormwood Scrubs is not unique, it’s endemic across the industry.”
Ms Stevens added that drugs in prisons were “the most critical issue” facing the service.
“One offender tried to gouge his own eyes out after taking legal highs,” the shadow solicitor-general said.
“The problem is immediate, the problem is now. Making it an offence will not make a difference.
“The government needs to prevent substances getting in but there are not enough prison officers carrying out searches.” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was unable to attend, sent the union a message of solidarity read out by POA general secretary Steve Gillan.
“Your members do an incredibly difficult job and it’s shocking they’re facing increasing levels of violence due to government cuts and privatisation,” the message read.
“Prisons should not be run for profit. They should be properly funded and fully staff. Austerity is a political choice not an economic necessity.”