2007   Archives   

Jails fear violent response by inmates to Friday lock

Alan Travis, home affairs editor
Saturday December 15, 2007
The Guardian

Prison officers and governors fear that a cost-saving plan to lock up tens of thousands of inmates from Friday lunchtimes to Monday mornings across England and Wales will spark control problems, particularly in high-security jails. Prison Service managers have privately acknowledged they will have to extend the provision of in-cell televisions as the pay-off for the early lockdown scheme.

The Prison Service has confirmed that all afternoon activities on Fridays inside public sector prisons, including education, skills training and offender management courses, are to be cancelled from April in an attempt to find £30m a year in Treasury-imposed efficiency savings.

The introduction of a "standard core day" was spelled out to governors in an internal Prison Service memo by the operations director, Michael Spurr, last week. He said it would apply to medium- and high-security closed prisons and institutions which hold young people aged 18 to 21. The scheme would not apply to low-security open prisons, many of whose inmates work outside the prison on weekdays, and those managed by the Youth Justice Board and holding under-18s.

A spokesman said: "Like all government departments, the Prison Service is required to look at efficiency savings. We are maximising our use of resources to deliver a safe and decent regime."

The Prison Service said the timetable would allow for 10 hours of activity on Mondays to Thursdays, 8½ hours on Fridays and eight hours on weekend days. The decision means that £30m a year will be saved in overtime pay to officers who provide Friday afternoon activities.

The Prison Governors Association has already warned that the decision to lock up prisoners for half a day longer will mean inmates spend more hours "banged up" than they did in 1969.

Glyn Travis of the Prison Officers' Association said prison officers were alarmed by this "quite draconian" decision.

He feared the policy was "doomed for disaster" when it is introduced in volatile, overcrowded prisons in April. "We have not had any major disturbances in prisons for several years," he said. "When you take something away from prisoners they react."

Saturday December 15, 2007                 view more news                    view the news article           view topic!

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Three giant prisons planned by 2014
Press Association
Wednesday December 5, 2007 1:23 PM

The Government is to build three "Titan" prisons holding about 2,500 inmates each as part of a programme to increase jail capacity by more than 10,000 places.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw said he had secured an extra £1.2 billion for a building programme which will see the capacity of jails in England and Wales increase to 96,000 by 2014.

One of the massive Titan jails - far bigger than any jail currently used in Britain - will be in service by 2012, with a further two expected to be built by 2014.

The plan was announced as part of a major review of the prison system, which is struggling with record levels and severe overcrowding.

Mr Straw told the Commons: "To provide additional capacity in the short to medium term we intend to convert the former Ministry of Defence site at Coltishall in Norfolk into a Category C prison."

He added that the Ministry of Justice is also "actively looking" for a prison ship.

Mr Straw also revealed that he will change the way the controversial indeterminate sentences operate.

The so-called Indeterminate Sentences for the Public Protection or IPPs will be amended so they only apply to prisoners who are given a minimum tariff of two years in jail.

The IPPs - which were only introduced four years ago - have created a massive bottleneck in the prison system because inmates handed such terms by the courts with a short tariff are often unable to complete courses required to win parole.

The proposal for Titan prisons was put forward by Government troubleshooter Lord Carter of Coles, who was asked by ministers to look at the way the prison system works from top to bottom.

December 5, 2007                 view more news        view the thread!        view the article

Kids in prison for homework
By JOHN KAY Chief Reporter

Published: 5 NOV 07

KIDS of seven are being let into a grim prison so their convict dads can help them with HOMEWORK.

More than 50 youngsters flood into forbidding Wandsworth once a week for learning sessions.

The Homework Club at the Victorian nick in South West London gives the children vital contact with their dads.

And it gives the prisoners – some serving life for rape and murder – an extra incentive to rehabilitate.

The club, the only one of its kind, takes place after normal visiting hours on Thursdays. The kids, all primary school age, go through intensive security checks at the Category B nick to make sure they are not being used to smuggle in contraband.

In the visits hall they get out their spelling books, maths homework and geography projects so their dads can see what they are doing at school and lend advice.

The hourly club – an initiative of governor Ian Mulholland – is closely supervised.

An insider at the jail, which can hold 1,416 cons, said: “It’s amazing to see all these kids, some as young as seven, sitting down with their dads inside a nick.

“Precautions are taken to make sure there is no abuse of the homework classes, such as attempts to use them to unwittingly smuggle in illicit goods like mobile phones and drugs.

“So far there has not been one case. The children are innocent victims and it’s good that they are allowed to maintain some sort of relationship with their dads.”

One prison officer joked: “We hope none of the dads are teaching their kids things like how to rob banks.”

Mr Mulholland said: “The club plays an important part in maintaining family relationships by providing prisoners with the opportunity to help children with homework.

5 NOV 07                view more news            view the topic            view article

Drugs team swoops on jail visitors
Oct 5 2007

by Laura Wright, South Wales Echo

FAMILIES of prison inmates were subjected to drugs dogs, swabs and strip searches in the latest operation in a police campaign.

Officers say anybody trying to smuggle drugs into prisons is committing an offence which is disrupting life behind bars.

The operation at Parc Prison, Bridgend, on Wednesday was part of the ongoing Rat on a Rat campaign to clamp down on drug dealing in the Bridgend area.

As they arrived, dozens of visitors were faced by police officers and prison staff and drugs dogs sniffed them for drugs.

They then had their hands swabbed for traces of drugs by the Itemiser – a £25,000 super-sensitive machine which is new to the area.

A total of eight men and women who had high positive readings for illegal drugs were taken into a separate room by officers and strip searched.

If no drugs were found, they were only allowed a “closed” visit – behind glass – to see the inmate to ensure nothing was passed between them.

One man, a solicitor, was asked to leave the prison without seeing his client – even though no drugs were found – because he had such a high reading of cocaine from the Itemiser.

Drugs liaison officer Clive Bevan said: “The intelligence is that drugs unlawfully enter the prison system from friends and family visiting inmates on a daily basis.

“We’re trying to put a stop to this and catch people in action.”

The operation coincided with a visit from justice minister David Hanson, who passed the drugs tests.

Sergeant Fiona Haggerty, who led the operation, said: “It’s been good to see both prison staff and police officers working together sharing intelligence. It sends the message that the supply of drugs will not be tolerated in our community.

“It’s a big deterrent to people visiting the prison to show how seriously we are prepared to deal with offenders.”

Superintendent Tim Jones added: “Drugs within the prison environment can cause a great deal of disruption, create tension and be a great detriment to drug rehabilitation and treatment programmes.

“The prison is a part of our community and this isn’t a one-off. We’ll be running this operation again.”

Oct 5 2007                view more news            view the thread            view article

Prison officers walk out on strike

James Sturcke and agencies
Wednesday August 29, 2007
Guardian Unlimited
Thousands of prison officers in England and Wales launched a surprise walkout today, with the move quickly condemned by the government as "illegal".

Almost all public prisons were affected by the strike, which began at 7am and is expected to continue for a minimum of one day.

The former chief inspector of prisons, Lord Ramsbotham, warned that the situation was "potentially explosive" because record numbers of prisoners were being supervised by a handful of governors.

Probation officers, lawyers and relatives were advised not to visit prisons today as inmates were locked down in their cells, and court cases were affected as inmates on remand were kept in cells. It was not clear what impact the unprecedented strike action would have on the delivery of meals and medicine to prisoners.

The strike - which has hit around 140 prisons - is over a below inflation pay award, poor conditions and low morale among Prison Officer Association members, a spokesman for the organisation said.

"This is about the treatment given to prison officers in England and Wales," the chairman of the POA, Colin Moses, told Sky News. "We have been given a below inflation pay award, of 1.9%, for the second year running.

"My members are receiving below inflation pay awards when they are being asked to look after the most violent people in society."

Mr Moses said that, with the prison population running at 81,000, his members "believed enough is enough".

On August 16, the union said its members were willing to take action after years of below inflation pay increases.

The justice secretary, Jack Straw, described the strike action as "deeply regrettable and wholly unjustifiable".

"Our first concern in this situation is to protect the public," Mr Straw said. "We have in place tried and tested contingency measures to ensure the security of all prisons across England and Wales is maintained. We will also ensure that prisoners receive meals and emergency medical attention.

"We are urgently considering what other action to take in respect of this unannounced and unlawful action by the POA.

"We will take all available steps to ensure that this strike does not impact adversely on our primary duty to protect the public."

He insisted his ministry had been "actively trying to engage" with the POA through talks and regular meetings.

Lord Ramsbotham, however, warned that with "such huge numbers [of inmates] and a very limited number of staff at work you can never be confident [about security]". He told BBC News 24 that tensions would rise in prisons and a lack of staff could lead to a "potentially explosive situation".

"I do not think today's action should be seen in isolation," he said. "It is symptomatic of the problems of an overstretched and under-resourced prison service.

"There are record numbers of prisoners, and the secretary of state announced that budgets would be frozen for three years. That led to tension among prisoners, which impacts on staff."

Charles Bushell, the general secretary of the Prison Governors' Association, said strike action was widespread and members of his organisation had been drafted in to help out.

"If you are intending to visit any prison today, either as a probation officer, lawyer or family member, I would advise you not to go and not to phone the prison because the person who would normally answer the call will be protesting outside the gates," he added.

He said his members had "considerable sympathy" with the POA in its dispute about low pay awards and financial restrictions, although he did not believe strike action had a place in the prison service.

The BBC reported that the 1,300 prisoners at London's Wormwood Scrubs were being guarded by eight governors.

"I have been a prison officer for 16 years. When I started there were five officers on every landing of 100 prisoners. Now there are only two," Alan Gaurley, the POA representative at Wormwood Scrubs, told BBC News 24.

"The landings are huge and they are not safe. A lot of my colleagues have been assaulted. We feel we are undervalued.

"The public is not aware, because we work behind closed doors, but as you can see today there is a lot of depth of feeling."

Mr Gaurley said he had received a call at 5am from POA leaders informing him of the strike.

Vans that collect prisoners on remand at Wormwood Scrubs were turning around at the gates of the prison.

Brian Caton, the general secretary of the POA, said he believed 90% of his members were on strike, and disputed claims that the action was illegal.

"I believe every officer has human rights, and they include the right to withdraw their labour," he added.

The row blew up after a pay review body recommended a rise of 2.5% this year but the government decided that should be staged, with an initial 1.5% rise followed by another 1% six months later. Last year, wardens were awarded a 1.4% pay increase.

Following the government decision, the POA said it was the "last straw" for its members, warning ministers that morale among prison officers was now at "rock bottom".

Officials said prisons were bursting at the seams and there were more than eight assaults against staff a day.

At the POA's annual conference in May, its 28,000 members were balloted on whether they would consider strike action to resolve the pay dispute. Eighty per cent of those who voted were in favour of a walkout.

Under its contract with government, the union is legally obliged not to undertake any industrial action that would disrupt the prison service.

The agreement dates to a court ruling in the early 1990s, which found prison officers had powers and authority similar to those of the police and subsequently could not strike. That was later enshrined in the Criminal Justice Act 1994.

However the union, which has mounted a long-running campaign to restore trade union rights to all its members, has given notice to withdraw from that contract, allowing the potential to strike.

August 29, 2007                 view more news              view the article              view the thread on this

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AFX News Limited
Brown warns prison officers UK economy will not be risked over pay dispute
08.30.07, 8:24 AM ET

LONDON (Thomson Financial) - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has warned prison officers that he will not put the economy at risk in order to meet their demands over pay.

The government is still reeling over yesterday's national strike, which came without warning at prisons across the country.

Officers are furious that their 2.5 pct pay rise has been introduced in stages, which they claim cuts its value in real terms to 1.9 pct.

However Brown said this was 'essential' to keep inflation under control.

The Prime Minister has consistently said he will not allow public sectors workers to have pay increases above 2 pct -- despite recommendations from the Prison Service Pay Review Body that 2.5 pct was a appropriate increase.

'We have succeeded in tackling inflation and having a stable economy because of discipline in pay over the last 10 years. That discipline will have to continue,' he said on a visit to a health clinic in central London.

Prison officers are not the only public servants angry with Brown's approach. Police and nurses are also considering their positions.

The strikers went back to work today as Prison Officer Association representative prepare to meet Justice Secretary Jack Straw to try to resolve the dispute.

August 30, 2007                 view more news              view the article              view the thread on this

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Anger in cells - and that's prison officers
get reading

A READING prison officer who has worked in the service for eight years has told how morale at work has never been so low.

Vicky Anderson, from Reading YOI Vicky Anderson, who chairs the town’s Prison Officers’ Association (POA), works at Reading Young Offenders’ Institution, where 135 of the 200 or so staff members are in the union.

The Reading union members, in line with their colleagues in jails across the country, have called for national industrial action – including strike action – in a pay dispute.

Like police officers, prison officers are not allowed to strike by law so the strike call is a powerful message of discontent.

Ms Anderson told the Evening Post: “What has made everyone so angry was the fact that the pay review body – an independent body – has recommended that we get a 2.5 per cent pay rise and we have been offered the equivalent of 1.9 per cent phased over two years.

“We are paid as if we were unskilled workers. And yet we have to have a number of skills that other people don’t have.

“We have to have the ability to stand firm in a situation when most people would run away.

“When a prison goes out of control and the prisoners climb up on the roof, it is not the police or the army who have to go out and talk them down, it is us – the prison officers.

“We have to be psychologists, negotiators.”

The starting salary for a newly trained prison officer is £17,774.

Ms Anderson said the job had become harder over the years as prisons have become filled to capacity.

She said: “The service can’t recruit enough people to the job at the moment and the courts keep on sending people to prison which puts the whole system under pressure.

“And there are young men in prison who are put inside because society can’t handle them.

“We are being asked to take over where society has failed and we are not given the resources to do the job.”

Ms Anderson also explained how staff shortages increase the pressure inside a jail.

She said: “You must have two officers in charge of a landing because you have to watch each other’s backs.

“If there is only one officer available then the prisoners have to stay locked up. That is not a satisfactory situation but it can’t be helped if there aren’t enough officers.

“If the prisoners are locked up all day in their cells then they’re not happy either.”

She added: “We feel undervalued and the situation has deteriorated. We are constantly being asked to work extra hours on our shift which sometimes means we will work more than 12 hours and because we are short of staff we can’t take the time off in lieu.

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