Prison system in crisis – charity

Published: Monday 20th October 2014 by The News Editor

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The prison system in England and Wales is in crisis, with the number of officers cut by 41% during the Government’s time in office, a leading charity has warned.

There were only 14,170 officer-grade staff in state-run prisons at the end of June 2014 compared with more than 24,000 at the end of August 2010, according to analysis of the latest official figures by the t he Howard League for Penal Reform.

The figures emerged just days after the head of the Prison Governors Association (PGA) warned jails were facing a “tipping point” unless chronic staff shortages are addressed.

The c uts include 1,375 officer posts that were lost when 15 public-sector prisons were closed during the period.

But t he Ministry of Justice disputed the Howard League’s figures and claimed the reduction in the number of officers was 27%.

A source said the charity was not comparing like with like and the fall in the number of officers over the time period was from 24,580 to 17,971.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The prison system is in crisis, and these figures reveal why. While the prison population has grown, officer numbers have been cut without any thought for the consequences.

“A shortage of governors makes matters even worse, because officers are being taken off the wings and asked to ‘act up’ to fill vacancies.

“Having made prison officers redundant, the Ministry of Justice is now apparently struggling to recruit. These are desperate times, and ministers are resorting to desperate measures.”

Last week PGA president Eoin McLennan-Murray told his association’s annual conference that jails in England and Wales have it as “tough and difficult and as bad” as he has seen it in 36 years with the Prison Service.

Mr McLennan-Murray hit out at the state of recruitment and staff shortages across the service, warning there is “a race” to get “sufficient staff into our prisons before we reach a tipping point”, adding that prison staff are “worn down, tired, over-worked” and “can’t achieve what they want with any amount of effort”.

Ms Crook said: “Last week, the outgoing president of the Prison Governors’ Association revealed that officers were being shipped from the north to plug gaps in the south, and being put up in hotels at a cost of £500 per week each.

“I understand that this arrangement is being built into long-term planning. Nobody knows how much it will cost, so the Government is writing itself a blank cheque.

“As well as being a shameful waste of taxpayers’ money, this approach will only create more disruption in jails. Good relationships between prisoners and staff are key to a well-run prison, and such relationships will be harder to achieve.

“Prison officers must respond to emergencies, and it is potentially disastrous to ask lowly-paid staff, demoralised and far from home, to work in different, unfamiliar prisons each week.

“Established officers, already working under great pressure, will have to spend time explaining where things are and how things work.

“The only solution to this crisis is one that successive governments have ducked. There are many people in custody who have not committed serious or violent offences and it is time for a hard look at who we send to prison and why. We must reduce the prison population.”

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: ” David Cameron and Chris Grayling are still burying their heads in the sand about the crisis in our prisons.

“Grayling devotes his energies to crackpot ideas such as banning sending books to prisoners instead of dealing with rising levels of violence, a shortage of places and a growing number of prisoner deaths.

“Ministers have caused this crisis by closing down too many prisons too fast and cutting staff while the number of prisoners has gone up. Less and less is being done to rehabilitate offenders – so unreformed prisoners will be released from jail risking public safety and creating more victims.”

Prisons Minister Andrew Selous said: “It’s beyond me why the Howard League go out of their way to deliberately mislead the public on the state of our prisons.

“They are less overcrowded than they have been for a decade and they are well-run, due to the dedication of the hard-working staff in them. Consistently trying to claim otherwise helps no one.

“We have seen a rapid improvement in the labour market in the South East, which has led to temporary staff shortages in some prisons.

“However, we are conducting an ongoing recruitment campaign and establishing a reserve force of staff who can be called on when needed. “

Published: Monday 20th October 2014 by The News Editor

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