PRISONS minister Rory Stewart announced his impending resignation today after he promised to quit in a year's time if he failed to tackle drugs and violence in jails.
Prison officers’ union the POA said the pledge virtually guarantees the minister’s early retirement, as violence against staff and prisoners continues to reach record highs each time figures are released.
And the union said it will take at least five years to replace experienced prison officers who have grabbed their chance to quit the ailing service amid waves of Tory cuts.
Mr Stewart made his pledge as he launched a £10 million programme to raise standards in 10 prisons hit by what he termed “acute” problems.
Prison Officers’ Association (POA) vice-chairman Dave Todd asked: “What about the other 100-plus prisons? We have suffered the most savage cuts we have ever had. All the experienced staff have taken voluntary redundancy.
“Over the past three years violence has risen to an all-time high quarter on quarter that figures are released — that’s assaults on prisoners and assaults on staff.”
Britain has 120 jails with a prisoner population of around 93,000.
Mr Stewart has promised £10m in new investment in just 10 of them — the ones with the worst record of violence and drug use.
He said: “I will quit if I haven’t succeeded in 12 months in reducing the level of drugs and violence in those prisons.”
Under the new scheme, £6m has been earmarked to improve security with drug-detection dogs, body-scanners and improved perimeter defences.
Another £3m will be spent on improving the fabric of the 10 jails, including repairs to basic infrastructure such as broken windows, while £1m will be spent on training.
The 10 prisons selected for the programme are Hull, Humber, Leeds, Lindholme, Moorland, Wealstun, Nottingham, Ranby, Isis and Wormwood Scrubs.
Mr Todd said: “It is just flannel to me. It’s too little too late. And it’s going to just 10 prisons. What about all the others? What is he going to do about them? It is disrespectful to other prisons that are suffering violence and the horrors of psycho-active substances, organised crime, weapons. Is he going to leave them to suffer? I don’t see him being here in 12 months’ time, because the violence is not going to come down.
“I know of Category B jails, with rapists and murderers, where you can visit and there is no X-ray, no search of clothing. That is ridiculous.”
Figures published last month showed self-harm incidents and assaults in jails were at record levels, while finds of drugs and mobile phones increased by 23 per cent and 15 per cent respectively in the year to March.
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